An overview of forestry in Bhutan: current situation and challenges

Share on email
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
1. Background

Bhutan is a small, landlocked country with a total area of 3,839,400 ha situated on the southern slope of the Eastern Himalayas. The country is almost entirely mountainous with altitudes ranging from about 100 meters in the foothills to over 7,500 meters in the north. About 71% of the total geographical area is under forest cover (2,730,889 ha) and the constitution of Bhutan mandates to maintain at least 60% of forest cover in perpetuity. Bhutan’s extensive forest cover and pristine environment, coupled with its strong conservation efforts, has allowed the country to have exceptionally rich biodiversity with flourishing populations of some of the rarest flora and fauna on earth.

The country has diverse climatic conditions which are classified into three climatic zones — 1) the southern Subtropical foothills with high humidity and heavy rainfall; 2) the central temperate valleys characterized by cool winters and hot summers with moderate rainfall; and 3) the high Alpine mountains with cold winters and cool summers.

Within these zones, there are eleven forest types namely subtropical forests, warm broadleaved forests, Chir Pine forests, cool broadleaved forests, evergreen Oak forests, Blue Pine forests, spruce forests, hemlock forests, fir forests, Juniper-Rhododendron scrubs, and dry alpine scrubs. Cool broadleaved forests (26%) and warm broadleaved forests (18%) are the most common types of forest in Bhutan. Each forest type has different characteristics and species compositions.

2. Forest Management Regimes

The National Forest Policy of Bhutan (2011) requires all forests to have forest management plans focused on the sustainable supply of forest products or ecosystem services. The management plans must also ensure that pests and diseases, forest fires and natural disaster management related to the particular resources form an integral part of the plan. Currently, the forest management regimes in Bhutan include:

  1. Protected Areas cover 51% of the country’s total area and are comprised of five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, one strict nature reserve which are well connected by nine biological corridors. These areas are set aside for the conservation of biodiversity and integrated development for people residing within and around these areas.   
  2. Community Forests are areas managed by the local communities to meet their requirements for forest produce. As of December 2019, there are a total of 804 operational community forests covering an area of 40 thousand ha throughout the country (FFF,2019).
  3. Forest Management Unit are areas prescribed for the sustainable harvesting of timber for rural use and commercial purposes. There are 21 functional forest management units in the country.
  4. Local Forest Management Areas are areas outside protected areas, community forests and forest management units, and are managed under local forest management plans.

As part of sustainable forest management, the DoFPS is implementing its 2nd National Forest Inventory to assess the status of forest health and condition in the country The data collected will provide a wide range of information on biodiversity, forest resources, forest carbon stocks, and changes in the state of forest since the last inventory study (conducted between 2012 and 2015). The information generated from this exercise will form the basis of forest management policies and programs in Bhutan.

3. Policies and Legal Frameworks

The conservation and protection of the natural environment are enshrined in the constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan (2008) wherein it mandates the Government to ensure that “in order to conserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem, a minimum of 60% of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time”. Article 5.1 of the Constitution further stipulates that “Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment”. Bhutan’s commitment to environmental conservation has been translated into numerous Policies and Legislations. The Bhutan Forest Act (1969) and National Forest Policy (1974) were the first rules passed by the government to conserve forests. As of 2021, key acts, policies, and strategies related to forests in Bhutan are listed below.

No.YearsForestry acts, policies, and rules
12017Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan
22011National Forest Policy of Bhutan
31995Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan
No.YearsForest-related national acts and policies
42020The Climate Change Policy of the Kingdom of Bhutan
52018The Land Lease Rules and Regulations
62016Economic Development Policy of the Kingdom of Bhutan
72011The Water Act of Bhutan
82009Waste Prevention and Management Act of Bhutan
92007The Land Act of Bhutan
102007The National Environment Protection Act
112003The Biodiversity Act of Bhutan
No.YearsForest-related programs and strategies
122020A Roadmap and Strategy for Strengthening Climate Change Research in Bhutan, 2021-2025
132020National REDD+ Strategy & Action Plan 2020-2030
142020National Environment Strategy 2020-2030
152018The 12th Five Year Plan 2018-2023
162014National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
4. Existing Challenges

Conservation of the environment and biodiversity as well as the sustainable management of natural resources has been one of the key focus areas in Bhutan. However, with the continued rapid pace of socio-economic development added with climate change impacts, adhering to the environmental obligations enshrined in the constitution of securing ecological balances and ensuring sustainable development is being conf