In memory

  • Eight years ago, Nepal lost many of its conservation heroes; their examples must live on
In memory

Oct 7, 2014-

On September 26, 2006, the radio announced that the management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in Eastern Nepal had been handed over by the government to the Kanchenjunga Area Conservation Council. I was ecstatic. Then Forest Minister Gopal Rai transferred the responsibility to the Council in Taplejung, making Kanchenjunga the first conservation area to be handed over to locals for management, a major aim of sustainable conservation.

Unimaginable loss

On September 27, 2006, the sky was dark with clouds. The radio made another announcement, but this time, it was a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Less than 24 hours after the hand-over ceremony, a helicopter carrying 24 people, including Forest Minister Rai, government officials, geographers, naturalists, foresters, journalists, diplomats, and council members had gone missing. A rescue team had been deployed, but unfortunately, there was no one left alive. The helicopter had crashed at Ghunsa, Taplejung with no survivors.

Eight years ago, Nepal lost so many of its conservation heroes, including Minister Rai; Harka Gurung, veteran geographer and former tourism minister; Chandra Gurung, founder and director of Annapurna Conservation Area Project; Tirtha Man Maskey, former director general of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) and a pioneer of sustainable, participatory wildlife conversation; Mingma Sherpa, who helped establish the Sagarmatha National Park; Damodar Parajuly, Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation; Narayan Poudel, Director General of the DNPWC; and Sarad Kumar Rai, Director General of the Department of Forests. Along with these luminaries, international conservationists, diplomats, and the flight crew also perished.

In one single blow, Nepal lost dedicated people who had made great contributions to the field of nature conservation, not only in the country but across the globe. These were people who tried to understand people and nature and find a way to bring the two together. These conservation heroes looked at matters from others’ points of view believed in providing great national priority to nature conservation. For them, nature conservation was the only way to establish a sustainable society. They were committed and devoted to issues of public concern. Their mission was to secure people’s rights and uplift people’s livelihoods through nature conservation. Because of their contributions, Nepal’s conservation movement integrated ecologists, economists, and sociologists and is now working to establish a sustainable society.

Different approaches

The people we lost in Ghunsa imparted to Nepal a different paradigm for considering conservation as beyond just protection and preservation. Their version of conservation allowed for the proper use of natural resources for the benefit of nature and people. Moreover, it was a technique that took necessary scientific management initiatives for proper utilisation for the retention and promotion of soil, water, forests, plants, wildlife, biodiversity and other natural resources. Furthermore, the word conservation came to include proper planning and management, sustainable use of resources to maintain the ecosystem, along with protection, preservation, rehabilitation, and promotion while maintaining the integrity of resources.

The shift in paradigm from protection to conservation did not happen overnight. It required committed people to be involved in the preparation of policy documents and translation of policies into actions by creating a conducive working environment at the field level. The World Conservation Strategy 1980 was extremely influential in the preparation of Nepal’s National Conservation Strategy 1988. After the Rio Summit in 1992, Nepal prepared its National Biodiversity Strategy 2002, which aimed to conserve nature with wise use and equitable distribution of benefits in the long run. Recently, the government approved the new National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

The conservationists we lost in Ghunsa were influential in the development and implementation of these above-mentioned policies and programmes. They were not limited to the forestry sector; they worked for the national interest. Therefore, it would be fitting to call them national heroes.

Continuing examples

In 2009, the Government of Nepal declared September 27 as National Conservation Day in memory of our conservation heroes. The government has also been providing life time conservation awards to people who have dedicated their lives to nature conservation. Furthermore, the government made a decision to provide a cash award of Rs 150,000 for the National Conservation Award. This year, Rautahat-based conservationist Baban Prasad Kayastha received the National Conservation Award.

Our conservation heroes were known for their affable, soft-spoken manner. Their untimely demise left a gaping void in the country’s conversation scene. No one can claim to be perfect in this world but there are few people who work hard and are able to come close. Our conservation heroes were surely among those people. We have to learn from them and follow their path to conserve nature for the next generation. There is room for improvement even among the best of us. Our conservation heroes always listened more and encouraged others to talk. They had dynamic visions and carried out excellent works, which inspired us to join in their conservation journey.

Paudyal is affiliated with the Nepal Foresters Association

Published: 08-10-2014 09:43

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