Assam On The Verge Of Losing The Beautiful Behali Reserve Forest

Upasana Gohain

The rich flora and fauna of Assam is known worldwide due to the number of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Reserve Forest situated in the state.

One of such preserved forest is the Behali Reseve Forest of Biswanath District which might soon vanish due to the illegal encroachment and deforestation.

Behali Forest was declared a reserve forest in 1917. It had a total geographical area of about 140 km2 but has now shrunk to only 80 sq km due to illegal encroachment and deforestation.

This forest is home to various species of plants and mammals which are found exclusively at the Behali Reserve forest alone.

So far, a total of 281 native plant species have been recorded in the BRF representing about 10% of the erstwhile Flora of Assam. 49 mammals, 280 birds, 23 snakes, 11 turtles, 11 lizards, 12 amphibians, 241 butterflies has been discovered in the Behali Reserve Forest.

As per the data shared by Dipankar Borah, who has been working closely in the protection of the Behali Reserve Forest, the forest provides shelter to a large number of ethnic communities in peripheral areas. More than 50% of its population is directly or indirectly dependent on the forest for their livelihood. One hundred different non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are reported to have been harvested by these fringe communities, the highest percentage being edible plants, followed by medicinal plants. A few selected wild edible plants, such as Gnetum gnemon and Lepionurus sylvestris, are the most preferred ones; they are collected by the local folk on every visit to the forest. From the economic perspective, however, most of the species have so far been unable to generate stable income, except for Gnetum gnemon, whose cones can reach up to INR 500/kg in a season lasting for 2–3 months in spring. Dried flowers of Mesua ferrea also reach INR 30/kg in early winter. Aristolochia assamica, Aristolochia cathcartii, Hodgsonia macrocarpa and Zanthoxylum oxyphyllum have been reported with high use values indicating that these species are the most valuable medicinal plants harvested from the reserve forest.

One can never explain in few words that the biodiversity of this forest has been holding over the years.

However, the decline in the area of the forest rapidly due to the illegal encroachment and cutting down of trees has posed severe threat to these species and their habitats.

There has been constant demand to declare the Behali Reserve Forest into a Wildlife Sanctuary, but the government of Assam is showing negligence towards the issue.

Extensive firewood collection and occasional hunting has also added to the serious concerns of the Behali Reserve Forest. Although the officials and the concerned citizens are taking various protective measures for the reserve forest, the manpower is extremely small and therefore inefficient in monitoring activities in all corners of the Behali Reserve Forest.

Nearly 30 per cent of the reserve forest is lost over the years, and it might lose more of its area in the future.

Also Read: Several Houses Razed During Eviction Drive At Boromboi Reserve Forest
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