Protecting our green cover is one of the basic ways to mitigate the issue of climate change. Thus, forests and foresters need to be the focus of our attention now. We must ensure we provide them with all the aid needed to execute their duties so that they can successfully guard our hope for the future – our forests and wildlife.
Air, water, food, shelter and sleep – are the most basic of all needs of human beings as per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs. In their absence, an individual or the human species as a whole cannot survive and thrive. Pure air, water, and unadulterated food will only come to us from an environment that is clean and green. For that, we need sufficient greenery in the form of vast stretches of forests that are undisturbed by human activities. But who ensures the same? It is the protectors of our forests – the foresters including forest guards, officers, and other personnel deployed to keep the sanctity of our protected areas intact. And their job demands immense valour, patience, and sacrifice.
Unfortunately, many of us are not aware of the existence and importance of these frontline warriors of our forests. Most of us don’t know that September 11 is observed every year as National Forest Martyr’s day in India. Like our armed forces at the frontiers, our foresters also sacrifice their lives to protect our green areas and wildlife.
Policies in our country are most often driven by vote bank politics. The absence of informed knowledge about the need to value the guardians of our forests leads to negligence towards them and their needs. Such behaviour, in turn, diminishes the importance of the wildlife and wild habitats protected by them. What comes to us then is poor-quality end products – our necessities of life – that are directly or indirectly dependent on such habitats. And that diminishes our overall quality of life, health, and well-being. In the long run, it threatens the very existence of our species.
A Forester’s Life Is Riddled With Challenges
The life of a forester is that of constant struggle. The challenges vary depending on the type of work done. Their duties range from combating armed poachers to dodging forest fires, encountering potentially dangerous wildlife during everyday patrols, to mitigating human-animal conflict situations.
However, only a knowledgeable few realize the significance of their work. To some, they are protectors of only the wild animals at the cost of human interests, impeding the development and progress of the nation. There are others who are still not aware of the existence of foresters and the duties performed by them or the extreme sacrifices made by them. Here are some examples that exhibit the hazards faced by foresters in India:
In February 2017, a range forest officer, Daulat Ram Lader, posted in Lailunga, Dharamjaigarh forest division of Chhattisgarh was brutally murdered. A month before he had seized a tractor carrying illegally mined stones from a river that flows through the forest he was protecting. The tractor belonged to Dilo Kumar who had threatened him over one month. A daredevil officer, Lader paid little heed to threats.
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In June 2019, a female forest range officer of Telangana, Chole Anitha was attacked by a mob of tribals and beaten mercilessly. The mob was allegedly supported by local political leaders. She and other forest officials were visiting the Sarsala village for a tree plantation program when they met with such extreme behaviour by the locals.
In September 2018, a ranger of the forest department in Chhattisgarh was allegedly killed by Maoists while visiting a village to pay wages to the villagers for road construction in the forest area.
These are not rare incidents happening once in a while. Many foresters in India lose their lives battling the powerful forces driven by greed.
As per a report by International Ranger Federation, India lost 29 forest rangers on duty in 2017. Between 2012 and 2017, the country lost 162 forest officers. Most of these killings were executed by poachers, land encroachers, and smugglers.
Little Recognition For A Job That Secures A Brighter Future
Despite the dangerous nature of their job and the complex problems they face, little is done to aid the forest service personnel to perform their duty better. They continue to work with age-old weapons and other outdated equipment, limited emergency medical help, low salaries, perks, and also little recognition of the challenges faced by them daily.
One of the primary reasons for this negligence towards the protectors of our forests is that the benefits we derive from their service cannot be directly evaluated with money. Air is all around us and there is sufficient water is available for most of us. They might be heavily polluted but, we still continue to breathe in oxygen and drink water. We do occasionally worry about the consequences of living in a polluted environment on our health and that of our progeny. However, we hardly associate the forests, that are well out of our site, with a clean environment in our urban areas. We fail to discover this connection, we neglect those protecting our forests.
For the rural poor, especially those living around forest areas, the foresters are often perceived as enemies. They are believed to be ones working against their interests by preventing them from expanding their farmlands and grazing their cattle in forested patches. To them, foresters are protecting wild animals that damage their crops or predates on their livestock. Politicians and policy-makers only bend to popular will and in its absence, usually do not tend to give a second thought to foresters and their needs.
But all this cannot continue to happen, especially with passing times when environmental issues intensify and start having direct impacts on our living. Climate change-induced extreme weather events are now becoming more frequent and damaging. The lives and livelihoods of millions are at stake due to such changes. Protecting our green cover is one of the basic ways to mitigate the issue. Thus, forests and foresters need to be the focus of our attention now. We must ensure we provide them with all the aid needed to execute their duties so that they can successfully guard our hope for the future – our forests and wildlife.
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About the author
Dr. Oishimaya Sen Nag is a wildlife conservation writer and editor at World Atlas, Canada. She has written several articles on issues related to wildlife conservation and interviewed renowned wildlife conservationists, wildlife biologists, and forest department officials working to protect wildlife across the world.