PESHAWAR - Recent chopping of more than 100 trees in Byari forests of Lower Dir district has raised concerns among people about the protection of com­munity-owned forests.

During the last couple of days, un­identified people chopped costly Di­yar and other kinds of trees from Be­yari forest located in Lajbouk Union Council of Timergara tehsil, Low­er Dir district. In a similar incident one month ago, more than 500 trees were cut from another forest in Med­an area of Lower Dir district.

A resident of Lajbouk area, Sohail Danish, told The Nation that local elders have approached the forest department with the complaint re­garding copping of around 100 trees from their area’s forest and the in­quiry was in progress.

When contacted, the Sub-Division­al Lower Dir, Forest Officer Shakil Khan, said that the mentioned for­est is owned by the local communi­ties, that is why forest guards have not been deployed there.

“Even if they want to construct a building there, it is the locals’ wish as it is owned by them. Such for­ests don’t come under the Forest Or­dinance 2002. However, I have re­ceived the complaint and I have sent a team there to assess the damage caused by tree cutting,” he added. He said the owners might approach the local police for a case against the in­cident.

Lower Dir District Forest Officer (DFO) Ijaz Khan told The Nation that there are protected forests over an area of around 23,000 acres in the entire Lower Dir district while the community owned forests cov­er even more area than the protect­ed forests. “When we receive a com­plaint from an area regarding tree cutting from a community forest, we refer it to the police who investigate it,” he added.

“A community can use wood from their forest for domestic use only and that too within that area where the community lives. Otherwise, the forest authorities can punish them if they are found transporting wood out of that community area,” he add­ed.

However, the DFO claimed that even in community forests, they have deployed forest guards at boundary areas with other districts, i.e Lower Dir’s boundaries with Upper Dir and other areas, to stop timber smug­gling.

Mentioning another case, the DFO said that almost a month ago, 590 trees were chopped from a forest in Medan area of Lower Dir. “Commit­tee was formed to investigate the case but because that was also com­munity forest, the case was assigned to the police,” he added.

The local residents, on the other hand, have demanded that commu­nity forests should be declared “pro­tected forests” and forest depart­ment should deploy forest guards there. “If our community forest is de­clared ‘protected’ one and the forest department deploys guards there, at least we won’t have to care about its protection,” said Sohail, an area res­ident.