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(Rpting With corrections throughout)

Written by: Staff
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Gangtok, Apr 6 (UNI) The Sikkim government has decided to recruit villagers residing in high altitude as honorary mountain guardians (Himal Rakshaks) for the conservation of the Himalayan ecosystem.

This was notified in the state gazette and would be implemented shortly, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest cum Secretary Forest T R Poudyal said.

He said the decision was taken as despite determined efforts by the forest and environment department, unregulated grazing, unplanned trekking tourism, hunting, trapping of wild animals, smuggling of medicinal and aromatic plants continued in the upperhill Himalayas.

The high altitude, remoteness, tough terrain and harsh climate multiplied the problem. Lack of adequate infrastructure, limited resources and high cost of patrolling by the forest staff also made the conservation of the ecosystem very difficult, he said.

Mr Poudyal said the decision to rope in the villagers practising traditional subsistence livelihood in high altitudes was taken as their participation would result in more effective management.

''The step was another effort by the forest department after the formation of Joint Forest Management Committees, to encourage public participation in the management and conservation of forest as the department alone could not conserve the forest efficiently'' he said.

Mr Poudyal said the eco system in upper Himalayas is needed to be conserved as it is a repository of unique globally significant wildlife and home to snow leopard, musk deer, black necked crane and is the source of many perennial rivers.

It is also the store house of many valuable medicinal and aromatic plants which serve as the base for the indigenous system of medicine. Apart from this most of the peaks, lakes, rivers and caves located in the region are considered sacred and visited by pilgrims.

The Secretary said the mountain guardians would be imparted training to control poaching, illegal trade in wild animals, prevent damage to wildlife habitats, smuggling of medicinal and aromatic plants, reduce negative impact of trekking and spread the message of conservation among the people.

''they would also be delegated the powers to search, seize and detain persons for prevention and detection of offences under the wildlife Act.'' he added.

The mountain guardians would be initially recruited for a period of one year and would work along with the forest staff. The period of their service could be extended for a maximum period of two to three years at a time. The Himal Rakshaks would be honoured for their outstanding work with a letter of appreciation and cash would be given in suitable cases.

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