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An environment under threat

In contrast to the deforested areas throughout most of Nepal, the Kangchenjunga valley contains impressive forests of juniper, oak, rhododendron, and birch. The rich biodiversity therein is the habitat of rare and endangered species. However, this once pristine area is threatened by:

• collecting of firewood and construction materials
• poor agriculture practices
• tourism
• gathering of medicinal herbs

Throughout the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, the local people depend on the forests for cooking, fodder, and construction materials.
And this dependence is becoming apparent. The forests closest to Ghunsa have been disturbed, and over-grazing has degraded some alpine pastures.

Slash and burn agriculture is common, and the time span between crops is decreasing significantly. ??

Tourism is affecting what was formerly a sparsely populated region. In particular, the critical high-altitude areas are being abused by organized trekking groups, who use them for camping. There are few trained personnel to manage this influx of tourists effectively and inadequate tourism infrastructure.

Outside contractors are plundering the forests for medicinal herbs, taking entire plants, including the roots, as all is considered valuable. This practice seems set to continue unabated until the herbs are depleted, as the Department of Forestry appears unwilling to control it.

Swertia chirata is believed to be an effective anti-malarial, and large profits are anticipated when foreign pharmaceutical companies make the harvesting worthwhile. Unfortunately, the local village development committees have little ability to control the harvesting or to ensure that any profits are retained locally.

To raise awareness of these problems, KSP incorporated tree-planting into its environmental education programs.