Bhutan is in many ways a conservationist’s dream.
The small Himalayan nation between China and India has what is in the modern world a remarkable level of forest cover — 72 percent, 42.7 percent of which is in protected areas and national parks. The country’s constitution has decreed that 60 percent of this forest cover will be maintained in perpetuity. In fact, environmental conservation is one of the four main pillars of the Gross National Happiness — the development philosophy put forth by Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
“Our environmental policy is predicated on the Buddhist perspective that human beings and nature not only live symbiotically and in harmony but are inseparable from each other,” said the Honorable Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, minister of home and cultural affairs for Bhutan, speaking at the opening ceremonies for a recent workshop held in the town of Paro by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).
The workshop brought together CEPF grant recipients from Bhutan, Nepal and northeast India to review progress toward conservation goals set for CEPF’s $5 million, five-year investment in the Eastern Himalayas region as the investment period comes to an end. CEPF supports civil society — nongovernmental organizations, communities and researchers — in biodiversity hotspots around the world to conserve vital ecosystems for people and nature.
“Nature is a partner in existence; a provider of sustenance, comfort and beauty; and home to millions of life forms that possibly would have been our parents, friends, siblings, etc. in our timeless existence as per Buddhism,” the minister said. “Environmental preservation is, therefore, a way of life in Bhutan.”
Given that Bhutan is already so focused on and successful at conservation, some might wonder why CEPF invested here. The answer lies chiefly in the threats that most biodiversity hotspots have in common.
“Pressures on the natural environment are already evident and will be fuelled by a complex array of forces,” said the minister, citing population pressures, agricultural modernization, poaching, hydropower development, mineral extraction and several more.
In addition to helping Bhutan deal with such threats, the CEPF investment also aimed to connect the nation with the other countries in the region, with an eye toward forging strategic ecosystem-wide strategies that cross national borders.
A few example projects supported by CEPF include:
- Development of the basis for a new national corridor management policy: This WWF project analyzed how to mitigate the effects of climate change on corridors while also allowing for continued human use. The policy will improve management of 3,307 square kilometers (1,277 square miles).
- Promotion of conservation and livelihoods in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary: The sanctuary’s black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis) conservation program was aimed at preserving the bird’s wintering habitat, which is mostly comprised of rice paddy fields. By putting in measures to mitigate flooding, the grant helped preserve both habitat and the source of people’s income.
- Demarcation of critical habitat: Along the Phochu River in the Punakha region, south of Jigme Dorji National Park, the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature worked with local communities to demarcate 1,140 hectares (2,817 acres) of habitat critical to the white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis). This broader area — the last remaining habitat of the species — is threatened by a planned hydropower facility along the river. The demarcation of habitat may help to ensure better infrastructure planning.
- Improvement in ecotourism: The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute furthered efforts to improve environmental tourism in Bhutan, using a science-based collaborative approach to prepare ecotourism plans in and around protected areas. In the biological corridor regions, Ugyen Wangchuck has created Village Tourism Management Groups to promote sustainable practices. Benefits are expected to flow to 142 households along the trekking route.
Julie Shaw is a writer and editor for CEPF. CEPF is a joint initiative of CI, l’Agence Française de Développement, the Global Environment Facility, the MacArthur Foundation, the World Bank and the government of Japan. Learn more about CEPF’s investment in the Eastern Himalayas.