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Rewind the Clock
by Reforesting the Land

One of the tragedies of modern history has been the destruction of nature in the world around us. Whether it be the decimation of the ozone layer or the pollution of our rivers, lakes and seas, mankind, in ignorance, has not been a good custodian of nature's bounty. Most of our mistakes can be traced to the wholesale destruction of the forests and woodlands which clad our earth thereby allowing erosion of the soil and unnatural silting of rivers. Sadly, such mistakes continue today as we witness the burning or rain-forests in Indonesia and Brazil and the outpouring of carbons from the industrial giants of North America, Europe and East Asia.

Thailand has already been denuded of most of its natural vegetation but, here in the Northern Province of Chiangmai, an effort is being made to restart some of the degraded forestland.

Some seven years ago, the Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU) was established as a joint venture between Chiangmai University and Doi Suthep-Pui National Park (under the Royal Thai Forest Department). Various Lions Clubs have helped with assistance and further sponsorships came from The British Council, Voluntary Service Overseas, and Shell Oil. Overseas researchers also came to join local expertise in formulating a plan and developing seedling nurseries of vegetation and trees natural to the area.

It was not part of FORRU's plan to have their staff plant trees -- they simply did not have the manpower to do this in any meaningful way. Instead, the target was to provide advice for any communities which wanted to commence a reforestation programme for themselves. The opportunity was taken up by the villagers of Baan Mae Sa Mai on the northern slopes of Doi Suthep-Pui.

Mountain slopes above the village of Baan Mae Sa Mai had been laid bare by slash-and-burn agriculture which left the soil open to erosion. In order to protect their watershed, the villagers wanted to reforest their land but initial attempts proved unsatisfactory. That's when FORRU was approached -- and a happy partnership was born! The villagers needed the "know how" and FORRU needed an area to establish experimental plots.

Since that time, the villagers of Ban Mae Sa Mai have their own tree nursery and two of their members were trained to manage it. And it's working! The result is that the nursery now produces the majority of seedling needed for the villagers reforestation programme. Also, the nursery affords an opportunity for villagers, from other areas, to "come look" and likewise welcomes visits from schools and other interested parties. Everyone can see, everyone can share, everyone can learn.

 These are some of the most important groups of animals, i.e. fruit bats, pigeons, bulbuls, civets, elephants; that disperse seeds and fruits from the forest into open areas, thus playing a vital role in forest regeneration. Preventing the hunting of such animals is just as important for forest restoration as planting trees.

And so a step is taken in the right direction; the villagers at Baan Mae Sa Mai are well on their way to reforesting and protecting their land. With that will come the return of wildlife which, in turn, will assist with the perpetual cycle of forest growth and regrowth -- just as nature intended!


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