The country's natural forests, habitats to wildlife and havens for many rare plants, are declining at an alarming rate for lack of effective conservation efforts, say experts.
“Once about 86 percent of the country's forests were the natural ones, but today you will find a very poor track of land covered by natural forests as those are shrinking…,” said Farid Uddin Ahmed, executive director of Arannayk Foundation, a joint initiative of the 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, which declined to 79,160 hectares in 2015.
Forest department data reveal that the worst-affected forests 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, are also showing a declining trend, although those provide important ecosystem services and functions as a protective barrier against coastal erosion.
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 Forests Md Yunus Ali told the news agency that unplanned urbanisation and industrialisation and construction of many establishments as well as roads contribute to the rapid decline of natural forests.
The forest department does not have enough capacity to conserve natural forests, Farid Uddin said, revealing that about 22 percent of posts of the department are vacant, which is about 50 percent in Bangladesh Forestry Research Institute.
Eminent environmentalist Dr Atiq Rahman said if the natural system of a forest is destroyed, the enabling lives, wildlife and biodiversity will be extinct. “The forests must be protected…to do so, we need science-based-knowledge and proper tools as well,” he said.
Dr Rahman, also executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies (BCAS), said it is time to regenerate natural forests since pressure of excessive population is mounting on forest resources.
Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed, country representative of IUCN Bangladesh, said the country's natural forest coverage is rapidly declining.
According to IUCN Red List of Bangladesh 2015 published on July 15, 2016, 31 species -- 11 animals, 19 birds and one reptile -- have disappeared from the country due to destruction of natural forests.
Wildteam Chief Executive Prof Anwarul Islam said the natural forests, which provide safe haven to wildlife, are getting fragmented day by day, putting the wildlife at risk.