Natural forests in Bangladesh, which are habitats to wildlife and havens for many rare plants, are declining at an alarming rate for lack of effective conservation efforts, say experts, reports UNB.
"Once about 86 per cent of the country's total forests were the natural ones, but today you'll find a very poor track of land covered by natural forests as those are shrinking at an alarming rate," said Farid Uddin Ahmed, executive director of Arannayk Foundation, a joint initiative of Bangladesh and US governments.
If the natural forests decline, he said, the country will lose biodiversity and wildlife creating many environmental hazards.
According to the draft of Forest Sector Master Plan 2016 prepared by Bangladesh Forest Department, natural hill forests were 128,630 hectares in 1990, but that declined to 79,160 hectares in 2015.
Forest Department data reveal that the worst-affected forests of Bangladesh are the inland deciduous Shal forests and bamboo forests. Shal forest was on 23,650 hectares in 1990 and it now depleted to 17,490 hectares. Natural bamboo forest was on 89,790 hectares in 1990 and it came down to 15,000 hectares in 2015.
The country's natural mangrove forests, including the Sundarbans, the largest single tract mangrove formation in the world, are also showing a declining trend, although that provide important ecosystem services to local people and functions as a protective barrier against coastal erosion.
The Sundarbans is a home to endangered Bengal Tigers and many species of native flora and wild animals.
Official data show that natural mangrove forest was on about 401,000 hectares in 1990 but it dropped to 390,000 hectares in 2015.
Chief Conservator of Forest Md Yunus Ali said unplanned urbanisation and industrialisation and construction of many establishments as well as roads contribute to the rapid decline of natural forests. "Kaptai, Bandarban and other hilly towns have been built logging huge trees of natural forests," he added.
A national forest not only supports the wildlife and biodiversity, but also provides ecosystem services to forest dwellers and community people, which has a high economic value, Mr Yunus said.
Farid Uddin estimated that the monetary value of the ecosystem services that the country's natural forests provide is about US$9.1 billion a year. "We're getting ecosystem services worth US$4,000 from one hectare of natural forest, but the government is yet to take any effective step to conserve the natural forests," he alleged.
The forest department has no enough capacity to conserve natural forests, the conservationist said, revealing that about 22 per cent posts of the department are vacant while about 50 per cent in Bangladesh Forestry Research Institute.