The economy of the “queen of the hills” mainly depends upon 3Ts: Tea, Timber and Tourism. The production areas of the former two products; tea gardens and Cryptomeria japonica (later Dhupi) forests, shine the beauty of the hills. The landscape dominated by tea gardens and Dhupi forests can easily magnetizes anybody. However, these Dhupi stands are being a source of environmental conflicts in the hills (Carrere 2006). The visitors, who have visited Darjeeling and fascinated with those Dhupi plantations, cannot realize the contentious growing under those stands. The belief of local people and environmental activists that Dhupi has negative impacts on ecosystem properties and process, could not match properly with the economic motive of forest department. Consequently, a paradigm shift in plantation management from monocultures conifers to the mixed species plantations occurred.
During the British colonial period, Dhupi was brought in India for its fabulous beauty and tea box planking. It is the most successful exotic species in the hills, which was introduced about 140 years ago. The species is growing vigorously and a major source of timber that is why young generation thinks that it is endemic to the area. On the other hand, they are also witnesses of drying off local water sources, being victims of wildlife raiding and have exhausted in search of firewood and fodder, and some places facing overflow during rainy season. They suppose that Dhupi is the cause of all these happenings. Local farmers are blaming their fate for having the worst neighborhood i.e. Dhupi forests, and considering the species as an environmental terrorist.
Who is responsible – Dhupi or management?
The nature is not bias and cannot produce bad environmental goods. It is we human-being who put the value on nature and distinguish the nature products. Dhupi has been introduced in many places beyond its natural habitat. And performing very well in all introduced area. Before charging the species, it is essential to analyze our deed. Are management practices in the Darjeeling hills in right direction? Do the silvicultural treatments prescribed have integrated socio-ecological aspects in plantation management? These questions are important to assess the performance of both species and management before coming into the conclusion.
According to the 12th working plan for Darjeeling Division the Dhupi stands management has been influenced by a research finding carried out by the Research Circle in the Hills. It was concluded that C. japonica can grow equally in both thinned and un-thinned stands. It means more plants, more production. As a result, stands were very dense and drying off of lower branches occurred significantly due to the lack of light, and needles were piled up on the ground. The slowly decomposed nutrient poor conifers needles (Kuers & Simmons 2002) which create acidification in the forest soils (Lavelle et al. 1995) remain intact for a long period do not support natural regeneration properly. Further, those heaps of the needles increase surface runoff and forest dwellers are obliged to spend many sleepless nights during the rainy season.
Moreover, a felling ban has been imposed in the hills. After the ban, there are no forest management activities except planting trees in the degraded land and, weeding, cleaning and refilling until their establishment. Most of the Dhupi stands have crossed their rotational age i.e. 60 years as per the working plan. These matured and overstocked stands create dark understory environment resulting low plant diversity and other forest-dwelling organisms (Ito et al. 2003). In Dhupi stands, light conditions play a crucial role (Kohama et al 2006), hence, timely thinning is required, which is lacking in the hills. Further, species richness and density of broad-leaved tress in a Dhupi plantation increases with the size of canopy gaps and closeness to the seed source (Kodani & Takada 1999, Ito et al. 2003). In many developed countries like Japan, C. japonica stands are not being managed properly due to high labor cost (Ishii et al. 2008) but in the Darjeeling hills it was mainly due to the intention of maximum timber production in the past and now influenced by the felling ban.
Does mixed species plantation satisfy local people?
Various studies have shown that mixed species plantations produce more diverse ecosystem services than mono-species plantations. Similar system has been adopted in the hills after the massive forest degradation during the Gorkhaland movement in the 1980s. Nevertheless, local people are facing similar problems i.e. forest products scarcity and wildlife raiding. In addition, the species richness between conifer and mixed plantations were not statistically significant because of the absence of management operations and uncontrolled harvesting.
Literally, rural farmers prefer native broadleaved species, which can produce diverse ecosystem services required for them. In the absence of proper utilization strategy; planted broadleaved trees are cutting down rampantly and conifers are gaining majority in the mixed plantations too. Besides, the broadleaved plants which have reached sapling and pole stage; their branches were cut and lopped haphazardly. Cutting of the mature branches may form knots and reduce the timber quality in long run.
Does Dhupi produce diverse ecosystem services?
The species was introduced aiming to produce timber and is successful to dominate the local timber market. Besides timber, the species have the capability to produce other provisioning services too. However, it is not suitable for fodder and bedding materials, is the first choice for poles production required for animal shade and construction in the hills. Similarly, dried branches were also being collected substantially for firewood. Further, saplings are preferred for vertical support to the creeping vine like Cucumber. It is mainly because of its straight bole.
In the past, people used to strip the bark for collection of roofing materials. But the hills people left to have the bark roof with modernization. Likewise, needles have an array of use like decorative and religious purposes. Because of the scent, needles are being used largely by Buddhists and available in the local market. However, it has a great potentiality to commercialize Dhupi needles; a complex and lengthy administrative process is a big hindrance.
Obviously, native broadleaved species can produce diverse ecosystem services than exotic conifers required for rural livelihoods. But conifers have also the potential to produce various non-timber forest products, if they are managed properly. Since, silviculture is the art and science of care and cultivation of trees which determines the growth, structure, health and quality of forests to meet the diverse needs of forest owners, societies and cultures; a proper silviculture system should integrate socio-ecological benefits into the plantation system. In the rural area like Darjeeling hills, multipurpose forestry should be the main aspire, where small wood and non-timber forest products can satisfy the needs of local people whilst timber production makes plantation economically viable.
Carrere, R. 2006. Different Plantation Species, Same Problems. WRM Bulletin 111.
Ishii, H.T., Maleque, M.A., and Taniguchi, S. 2008. Line Thinning Promotes Stand Growth and Understory Diversity in Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica D. Don) plantations. Journal of Forest Research, 13.
Ito, S., Nakagawa, M., Buckley, G.P., and Nogami, K. 2003. Species Richness in Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) Plantations in Southern Kyushu, Japan: the Effects of Stand Type and Age on Understorey Trees and Shrubs. Journal of Forest Research. Vol 8 No 1.
Kodani, J. and Takada, K. 1999. Invasion and Dominance Pattern of Broad-leaved Trees in Forest Floor of Cryptomeria japonica D. Don Plantation. Bull Ishikawa.
Kohama, T., Mizoue, N., Ito, S., Inoue, A., Sauta, K, and Okada, H. 2006. Effects of Light and Micro-site Conditions on Tree Size of 6-year-old Cryptomeria japonica Planted in a Group Selection Opening. Journal for Forest Research,11.
Kuers, K., and Simmons, J. 2002. Leaf Litter Decomposition. Available: www.sewanee.edu
Lavelle, P., Chauvel, A., and Fragoso, C. 1995. Faunal Activity in Acid Soils. Plant Soil Interactions at Low pH. Kluwer Academic Publishers, the Netherlands.
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