PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa environment minister Syed Mohammad Ishtiaq on Thursday claimed that the province’s forest cover had increased by 6.3 per cent due to the ‘successful completion’ of the Billion Trees Tsunami afforestation project.

“The successful completion of the gigantic afforestation project earned us praise from a number of countries and international conservation bodies,” the minister told a presser here about the six-year efficiency of the environment department.

He also claimed that the plantation of one billion saplings also enhanced the country’s forest covered area by one per cent and that the afforestation programme had added 1,208 million trees to the province’s forests.

Minister attributes it to ‘successful completion’ of Billion Tree Tsunami project

The minister said the German government had pledged to provide €13.5 million for the forestry sector, while the federal and provincial governments would plant one billion additional saplings in the province under the 10 Billion Trees Afforestation Programme, 2018-23.

“Sixty per cent saplings will be planted in the merged tribal districts,” he said.

The minister said the Billion Trees Tsunami Project was completed at a cost of Rs14 billion against the estimated cost of Rs22 billion and thus, saving the provincial exchequer Rs8 billion.

He said the plantation of one billion saplings under the BTAP programme would cost Rs27 billion to be funded by the provincial and federal governments on 50:50 sharing basis.

Answering a query regarding huge difference in the cost of the Billion Trees Tsunami Project and 10-BTAP, the minister said the price escalation was one of the major reasons.

He said afforestation would be carried out at 16,994 hectares in the merged tribal districts under the 10-BTAP, while the department had established 1,632 enclosures across the province.

“Twenty-six million plants will be distributed among communities free of charge,” he said.

Mr Ishtiaq said the department had begun inquiry into the recent forest fires, while standard operating procedures had been framed to cope with such fires in future.

He said 60 people found involved in illegal cutting of trees had been arrested, while 141,000 kanals of forest land had been retrieved in Malakand, Hazara and Dera Ismail Khan divisions during the last five years.

“Effective measures have been adopted against timber mafia, which is evident from the fact that 19,968 cubic feet timber was seized in 2018-19,” he said.

Regarding achievements in the wildlife sector, the minister said the population of Markhor (wild goat) had reached 5,511, while the strength of ibex in northern parts of the province had touched the 3,876 mark.

“The population of wild animals increased mainly due to the conservation of habitats and involvement of local communities. The department generated $342,000 by auctioning four trophy hunting permits of Markhor.

The minister said three permits of trophy hunting of Ibex were auctioned to foreigners for $9,300, while two permits were sold to two locals for Rs250,000.

He said the wildlife department also issued 566 small game shooting permits in 2018-19 generating Rs1.698 million.

The minister said the department issued 6,389 small game shooting licences during the last financial years and earned Rs12.778 million.

He said the Pakistan Forest Institute had started mapping for the non-timber forest products (NTFP) in selected districts of the province.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has issued legal notices to 697 industrial units, while 761 notices had been submitted to the Environmental Tribunal,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2019