July 6, 2020
Mr. A.H.S Wijesingha
Secretary - Ministry of Environmental and Wildlife Resources
416/C/1 Robert Gunawardene Mawatha, Battaramulla
Re: Objection to the Proposed Cabinet Note to Cancel Circular 05/2001
The majority of forest lands of Sri Lanka are in the custody and protection of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and the Forest Department of Sri Lanka (FDSL). The small forest patches and those forests known as other forests (now misleadingly, referred to as residual forests), are held under the purview of the Forest Department by circular 05/2001.
Since 2006, lands required for Chena farming were released and allocated to farmers. In this backdrop the proposal by the Cabinet to release 500,000 hectares to rescind the said circular 05/2001 and transfer lands to Government Agents (GA’s) and Pradeshiya Sabha’s (PS) is ominous. The job description of GAs and PSs are not custodians and protectors of the forests but to provide land for cultivation.
As you know these forest patches are located between the DWC’s National Parks and sanctuaries and FDSL forest reserves throughout the country. They happen to be strategically located from an ecological standpoint and their loss will further fragment the remaining forest lands of this country. These small forest patches link forest reserves to national parks and sanctuaries. These provide continuity of forest lands in the country, and several are corridors set aside for wildlife; in particular elephants. These Forests were protected thus far only through the wisdom of past policymakers who brought these small, scattered forest patches under one protective umbrella via a circular and, vested them within the Forest Department. It is only through this far sighted vision that their value was taken into consideration.
Now, the government in a short sighted manner wants to reverse these protections to make said lands available for various other activities which will create and increase issues such as:
- Human Elephant Conflict as the loss of habitat for these elephants will result in them searching for food sources within human settlements. This will result in catastrophic disaster of death of both elephants and humans.
- Removing these forest patches to a country where the forest lands is only about 17% of forest cover will result in a massive impact of lack of rainfall, humidity, mist, water vapor, condensation and precipitation that will affect the dry zone and the slightly hilly areas. This will create problems such as water shed management, impact on biodiversity, and reduction of soil fertility.
On a positive note, if these forest patches are conserved and nurtured, it could result in increasing foreign exchange by encouraging more foreign visitation to encounter wild animals in a forest setting.
We urge you, on behalf of all the environmental organizations, to continue to protect this Circular 05/2001 and thereby protect the nation from an environmental disaster. Protecting these forest patches are key ensuring that Circular 05/2001 is maintained as is very important for the future of our environment.
Further we encourage you to use this opportunity to take the next step and make every attempt to file a counter paper to request that these lands are gazetted as protected lands to ensure we do not come to this juncture ever again.
Hon. General Secretary
Cc: His Excellency, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa