Monastery's gift to preserve nature - Land turned into community-conserved area

Guwahati, April 27: A monastery in Arunachal Pradesh has decided to convert a significant portion of its forest land into a community-conserved area.

A programme was held at Domkho village in West Kameng district yesterday where the Mon-Lhagyala Buddhist Cultural Society (MLBCS) and the Kalaktang Tsopa, a confederation of more than 20 Monpa villages, declared the forested land as the Mon-Lhagyala Community Conserved Area (MLCCA).

The MLCCA, named after the Lhagyala gompa (monastery), falls under the Kalaktang circle of West Kameng district and covers an area of 85 square km. The elevation of the area ranges between 8,200 feet and 13,000 feet and covers both the temperate and the sub-alpine biomes. It is an important habitat of the red panda (Ailurus fulgens), alpine musk deer ( Moschus chrysogater), high-altitude pheasants, Asiatic black-bear (Ursus thibetanus) and forms the catchment area of the Domkho Ri river - a crucial water source for the Domkho-Morshing valley.

The monastery is situated on the mountainside overlooking the Domkho-Morshing valley. The term lhagyala means repository of more than hundred large icons. It is culturally a very significant monastery for the entire region and is older than even the Tawang monastery, having been established by the Kachen Lama in the seventh century.

An official working in the WWF Western Arunachal Landscape said this is probably the first instance in the region, or probably in the country, that a monastery has taken interest to set aside its forest resources and declare it as a community-conserved area for the long-term conservation of the area and providing a sustainable livelihood for the people.

The community-conserved area model is an important tool which is effective in a state like Arunachal Pradesh, where more than 60 per cent of forest land (roughly 30,000 square km) belongs to local communities and is governed by their traditional customary laws.

The MLCCA is managed by the Mon-Lhagyala Buddhist Cultural Society, which has banned any form of hunting and illegal/commercial extraction of forest resources from the area. Violation of this order will be a punishable offence under provisions of customary laws and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

The divisional forest officer of Shergaon forest division, Millo Tasser, formally inaugurated the MLCCA and lauded the efforts of the local community. "This is a good beginning and noble effort by the people of Domkho and other villages," he said. The president of Kalaktang Tsokpa and executive members of MLBCS also attended the event.

The MLCCA extends up to the international boundary of Bhutan. Importantly, the area shares its western boundary with the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary of Bhutan that has some vast, pristine mixed conifer forest tracts and a huge diversity of rhododendron species.

The official said WWF-India has been supporting the local communities and the MLBCS to secure forests for species conservation and long-term management to address livelihood needs of the people. "We will further work with the people and the society to strengthen management practices and define resource use protocols," he said.

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