Pakistans juniper forest declared as biosphere reserve

LEAD 04-24 Juniper Forest-2Sidra Saif

ISLAMABAD: The International Coordinating Council (ICC) of the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme has declared the Juniper Forest of Ziarat in Balochistan as the Biosphere Reserve, which is yet another step towards recognition of Pakistans natural sites of international significance on global level.

The decision has recently been made during the 25th session of MAB ICC at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The Juniper Forest of Ziarat, the second declared Biosphere Reserve (BR) in Pakistan.

It is to be mentioned here that earlier in 1977, MAB ICC had declared Lal Suhanra, in Cholistan desert of southern Punjab province, as Biosphere Reserve, which is considered the historic development.

Believed to be the second largest Juniper forest of its kind in the world, this Biosphere Reserve of Ziarat is habitat to the largest patch of Juniper forests in Pakistan. Juniper tree species of Ziarat have a global significance chiefly due to their old age and slow growth rate. The species finds its place in the list of the oldest living trees on earth.

Though no dendrological study has yet been conducted, the age of a mature tree, according to an estimate, exceeds 4000 to 5000 years.  Precisely because of this, they are locally termed as “Living Fossils”.

This forest carries a lot of importance as it is host to endangered wildlife species including Suleiman Markhor, Urial, Black Bear, Wolf, Afghan Pica, foxes, jackals and several species of migratory birds. In addition, the forest is also rich in diversity of plant species of medicinal significance. Of the 54 available species, more than 50 per cent are of medicinal/ethno-botanic value and are being traditionally used by the local communities as panacea to treat various diseases.

However, the biosphere reserves provide challenge to researchers to be innovative, creative and adaptive of research approaches that are multidisciplinary in nature. It encompasses diverse fields including policy and management, so that human beings are better equipped with knowledge and ideas that ought to be ecology friendly and sensitive to nature.

Earlier, Pakistan National MAB Committee had submitted the Dossier and Management Plan of Ziarat Juniper Forest to the MAB Secretariat for its inclusion in the list of World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). Each year since 1970, International Co-ordinating Council (ICC) of the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme has been deciding new biosphere reserves to be included in the list of WNBR.

Pakistan National MAB Committee has a next plan to conduct the review of the Lal Suhanra Biosphere Reserves, and According to the international criteria, a state should have at least 25 per cent of its land covered with forests, while Pakistan has only 4 to 5 per cent covered area which is, no doubt, a point of major concern for the stakeholders.

“Inclusion of Juniper Forest in the World Network of Biosphere Reserve is yet another step towards recognition of Pakistans natural sites of international significance on global level, which is a matter of great honour and pride,” says Mahmood Akhtar Cheema, Country Representative, IUCN Pakistan.

This initiative is expected to promote the MAB Programme and expand scientific research activities on the Biosphere Reserves in Pakistan. However, forests experts foster no big hopes about the bright future of forests in Pakistan mainly due to the regular deforestation activities, floods and subsequent land erosion and shallow policies of the relevant authorities.

They are of the view that the government needs to come up with a tangible policy to ensure preservation of forests that would also ensure protection of wildlife as rare species in the forests are prone to extinction.

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