The traditional Sal forest in Tangail is disappearing fast due to non-stop felling of trees and encroachment of forestlands.
Forest department officials claimed that they could not take prompt action against the looting of trees and the encroachment of forestlands due to a shortage of manpower and other logistical support.
The foresters seized a truck loaded with Sal trees at Ovirampur area under Bashtoil union in Mirzapur upazila on the April 20, a Saturday.
Just two days before on a Thursday, they seized another truck loaded with Sal trees from Patharghata area in the same upazila.
Though the trucks with trees were confiscated, the thieves managed to escape arrest, said Fazlul Haque, Range Officer of Bashotoil.
The trees in question were felled from adjacent Sakhipur forest, he added.
On March 19, a group of thieves cut down trees at Botchtol area in Sadar Beat of Madhupur upazila. When informed, a group of forest guards rushed to the spot and tried to stop them.
The thieves, however, launched an attack on the forest guards with sharp weapons, leaving six of them seriously injured, Sadar Range Officer, Khasru Alam, said.
Earlier on November 30, some 1,650 Sal trees on nearly 15 acres of land at Chandpur, under Aronkhola Mouja of the same range, were cut down in a single day, foresters said.
Some people from adjacent villages in Mymensingh's Muktagachha upazila took part in the massive destruction of the natural forest while the foresters could only watch, owing to the looters' large numbers and presence of women and children among them, they added.
Somnath Lahiri, senior research officer of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said the trees are being cut down at different areas in the forest regularly with truckloads leaving almost every night.
The forest lands are encroached after cutting down the trees. Later, pineapple, banana, papaya, turmeric etc are cultivated on it, he said.
“I have been working at different levels and stages to preserve the Sal forest from 2004 but have not seen such massive destruction before. If such destruction goes on, the traditional Sal forest will only be found in history,” he said.
Somnath also said chopping down trees had totally stopped in Madhupur upazila after the forest department started implementing a project titled “Revegetation of Madhupur Forest through Rehabilitation of Forest Dependent Local Ethnic Communities” in 2010.
Under the project, 700 locals, believed to have been involved in cutting down trees, were trained to save the forest as community forest workers (CFWs).
Identity cards, uniforms, boots, a weekly allowance of Tk 300 and several other facilities were provided for them.
Felling of trees and grabbing of forestlands, however, resumed just after the Tk 22 crore-project ended in December 2015 and many of the trained CFWs started stealing trees and grabbing forestlands again, Somnath said.
Terming the leasing of forestlands in name of social afforestation a big reason behind destruction of natural forest, the green activist demanded a stop to it. He also emphasised the need to save the Sal forest.
Earlier, the forests in Tangail were spread over 1,22,876 acres of land in five upazilas, 45,565 acres of which were in Madhupur; 47,220 acres in Sakhipur; 21,855 acres in Ghatail; 7,576 acres in Mirzapur, and 669 acres were in Kalihati, forest department sources said.
Of the total forests in the district 55,476 acres are reserve forests with 38,232 acres in Sakhipur; 7,225 acres in Mirzapur; 7251 acres in Ghatail; 2,500 acres in Madhupur; and 185 acres in Kalihati.
Almost two-third of the forests in Tangail, amounting to around 80,000 acres, have already disappeared due to mindless cutting of trees.
Around 60,000 acres of forestlands in the district remain grabbed by influential encroachers, of which around 22,000 acres are in Madhupur, 19,500 acres in Sakhipur, 13,000 acres in Ghatail, 3,300 acres in Mirzapur and 150 acres in Kalihati, the sources added.
Contacted, Masud Rana, divisional forest officer in Tangail, said it is not possible to save the forest with such a short number of workers and logistical support.
Moreover, the law enforcement agencies did not provide sufficient assistance to the forest department in this regard, he added.