Taking the various values ascribed to biodiversity as its point of departure rather many years ago, the present study aims at deriving a conservation strategy for Uttara Kannada. This hilly district, with the highest proportion of its area under forests in South India, is divided into five ecological zones: coastal, northern evergreen, southern evergreen, moist deciduous, and dry deciduous. The heavily-populated coastal zone includes mangrove forests and estuarine wetlands. The evergreen forests are particularly rich in the diversity of plant species which they support — including wild relatives of a number of cultivated plants. They also serve a vital function in watershed conservation. The moist deciduous forests are rich in bird species; both moist and dry deciduous forests include a number of freshwater ponds and lakes that support a high diversity of aquatic birds.
Reviewing the overall distribution of biodiversity, we identify specific localities — including estuaries, evergreen forests, and moist deciduous forests — which should be set aside as Nature reserves. These larger reserves must be complemented by a network of traditionally-protected sacred groves and sacred trees that are distributed throughout the district and that protect today, for instance, the finest surviving stand of dipterocarp trees.
We also spell out the necessary policy-changes in overall development strategy that should stem the ongoing decimation of biodiversity. These include (1) revitalizing community-based systems of sustainable management of village forests and protection of sacred groves and trees; (2) reorienting the usage-pattern of reserve forests from production of a limited variety of timber and softwood species for industrial consumers, to production of a larger diversity of non-wood forest produce of commercial value to support the rural economy; (3) utilizing marginal lands under private ownership for generating industrial wood supplies; and (4) provision of incentives for in situ maintenance of land-races of cultivated plants — especially evergreen, fruit-yielding trees — by the local people.
It is proposed that this broad framework be now taken to the local communities, and that an action-plan be developed on the basis of inputs provided — and initiatives taken — by them.
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