We are all in this together: Collaboration as the key for effective corridor management
© PRASENJEET YADAV
The Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and the Coalition for Wildlife Corridors organized the first ‘Corridor Conservation Planning Workshop’ for Satpura–Pench and Satpura–Melghat corridors in Pachmarhi on June 6 and 7, 2023. The workshop brought together 70+ representatives from different domains—forest department officials, district administration representatives, tribal welfare department officials and conservationists, among others—to discuss and deliberate about various aspects of corridor conservation, including their current status, threats, and management. Here, we discuss why corridor conservation planning is a complex task that requires timely and effective collaboration.
What is a wildlife corridor?
Wildlife corridors are generally understood to be narrow strips of natural habitat that connect two or more habitat patches, which were historically contiguous, and serve as conduits for animal movement between these patches. In reality, several corridors in India are not linear homogenous strips of habitat but a mosaic of fragmented forests and other land-use types, which leopard, tiger, elephant, dhole, and other wildlife species use to move between habitats. In the present times, however, these multi-use corridors are being rapidly transformed and are often at risk of further land use change, habitat loss, and fragmentation. It is crucial to conserve these corridors to maintain viable wildlife populations in the future.
To ensure that animals can move freely between habitats, effective conservation planning is where it all starts. Having corridor conservation plans that balance wildlife needs, well-being of the communities living in the corridor, and economic goals of the region is the need of the hour.
Whose corridors are these anyway? Many uses, many users
As we wrestle with the question of identifying the most efficient strategy of corridor conversation and management, it is imperative to recognize the role of different stakeholders. This is essential because many corridors in India are spread across several hundred kilometers, which brings forth a unique challenge—the presence of diverse land use types, jurisdictions, and stakeholders. These corridors often have forested areas, hundreds of villages, farmlands, densely populated cities, rapidly growing towns, and industries within their boundaries. Animal movement in these corridors is often obstructed by intersecting linear infrastructure such as highways, railways, and power transmission lines. Moreover, some corridors also overlap with the coal-bearing belts or ore reserves of the country.
Given this intricate interplay of natural and human elements, conservation of these multi-use corridors necessitates robust partnerships among different stakeholders so that developmental goals can align with conservation goals. “Joint plans for conservation and social goals are the path forward to ensure ethical and safe passage of wildlife”, says Amrita Neelakantan, executive director of the Network for Conserving Central India.
Does India have a plan for corridor conservation?
The Government of India acknowledges the importance of corridor conservation, as is evident in the National Wildlife Action Plan 2017 and in several guidelines provided by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Notably, each tiger reserve in India must prepare Tiger Conservation Plans (TCPs) with an indicative plan for adjoining wildlife corridors. These guidelines highlight the strategies that can be used for corridor conservation. For example, they suggest that managerial approaches similar to buffer areas of tiger reserves should be adopted in the corridor areas and that “commercial mining, setting up of industries causing pollution and establishment of major hydro electric projects, and discharge of solid wastes or effluents in natural water bodies needs to be avoided in such areas”.
To ensure effective planning in the corridor areas, the guidelines also recommend incorporating corridor-related activities in the working plans of forest divisions overlapping with the corridors as well as establishing State Level Monitoring and District Level Implementation Committees. Though such detailed guidelines do not exist for other species, most of these practices are equally valid and crucial for several species. However, depending on the species composition of the region, corridors may require some species-specific considerations, not included in the TCP guidelines, as research shows that a single species may not always effectively capture varied ecological requirements for dispersal of other sympatric species.
While there are guidelines and mechanisms for conservation planning for tiger—and to some extent elephant—corridors, a preliminary review of the plans suggests that their implementation has not been able to translate into action on the ground. These plans require further strengthening in several areas, including coordination between tiger reserves, territorial forest divisions, line departments, and infrastructure development agencies.
It takes a whole orchestra to plan it
Given the multi-use nature of most corridors in India, collaboration lies at the heart of effective corridor conservation. All the cogs of the different departments and stakeholders must move in sync to ensure synergy in the efforts to conserve the corridors. Understanding and mapping of jurisdictions (such as reserve forest, private land, and community land) and identifying convergence and conflicts in policies associated with these jurisdictions is critical to collaboratively advance corridor conservation. Along with the local communities, this cross-sectoral planning process needs active participation of diverse sectors including agriculture, water resource management, mining and infrastructure.
Recently, the Coalition for Wildlife Corridors and Madhya Pradesh Forest Department jointly organized a two-day workshop to address the need for corridor conservation planning in Central India by engaging with different stakeholders. The workshop focused on the Satpura-Pench and Satpura-Melghat corridors and convened forest officials from tiger reserves and territorial forest divisions overlapping with the two focal corridors, as well as representatives from the district administration, NTCA, NHAI, Western coalfields, other government agencies, and NGOs that work in the these corridors. “This is the first-ever attempt to bring all stakeholders together to have a common understanding of corridors and discuss streamlining of the developmental activities for the betterment of wildlife and communities,” says Mr. L Krishnamurthy, Field Director, Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Throughout the workshop, the attendees actively participated in a series of discussions on the importance of upholding ecological connectivity and the challenges faced by different stakeholders. Leveraging the diverse expertise and knowledge of the group members, the participants brainstormed innovative strategies that can strengthen corridor planning in the two corridors. This was the first in a series of workshops for conservation planning of corridors in Madhya Pradesh.
Although just the first step, such multi-stakeholder workshops are excellent forums for in-depth discussions and thoughtful dialogues, which can lead to effective corridor conservation planning. They can allow policymakers, conservationists, and other stakeholders to work in tandem to avoid, mitigate, and offset the negative impacts on corridors — in that order — to ensure the persistence of the diverse species in landscapes across India.