Bhutan – On the Road to Complete its National Level Data for Forest

Field work and training in Tsirang (Courtesy of Forest Resource Management Department, Bhutan)

Bhutan is a landlocked kingdom characterised by high mountainous terrain and extensive forest cover. Over seventy percent of the country is covered in relatively well-preserved forest and is one of the ‘biodiversity hotspots’ of the world consisting of an extensive network of rivers, rivulets and streams arising from a high level of rainfall, glaciers and glacial lakes. After a 40 year gap, Bhutan has committed to complete its National Forest Inventory (NFI) to facilitate scientific decisions for proper forestry management. NFI is funded by Royal Government of Bhutan, Bhutan Trust Fund, EU (Global Climate Change Alliance), and the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UNREDD) programme. With the inventory, it aims to fulfil the REDD’s measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) process. 

The NFI of Bhutan was conducted in two phases, preparatory (2009-2012) and implementation phase (2012-2015) with pilot testing in its capital Thimpu. The preparatory phase included development of inventory design and methodologies, data parameters, field manuals, modalities, procurement of field equipments, mobilisation and capacity building of field crew and setting up of National Information Management System which was funded by Bhutan Trust Fund. Field work in 18 of 20 districts has been completed. By the end of December, NFI aims to complete all field work. 

The first phase of training included 12 crew leaders with five field officers (foresters) and social scientists from Washington University and Yale University serving as consultants. Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) and the consultants helped with statistical inputs. After a three-year gap, a second training was held in April 2012. In July 2012, field work began but was suspended due to limited funding. 

Difficult terrain and landscapes for field work (Courtesy of FRMD, Bhutan)

Currently Bhutan is seeking technical assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for data analysis, methods and process. Bhutan planned to send three officers for training in November. FAO supports development of a data management system to integrate NFI data system with OPEN FORIS collect, an FAO-led initiative supporting the development and sharing of  tailored software tools to countries and institutions to perform multi-purpose forest inventories. 

Activities for NFI also include the development of biomass allometric equation for 50 important species. Allometric equations for twenty timber species are to be developed to complement the national forest inventory in estimating forest carbon stock. Basic infrastructure has been completed and an equation for five species from one region has been already developed. 

To crosscheck the quality of national forest inventory work, 240 plots representing 20 percent of the sample plots were re-inventoried by independent inventory crews. Thus far, re-inventory work is complete in Haa and Paro districts of the western region with more than 2,100 samples taken and delivered to the Soil and Plant Analytical Laboratory and are being tested for soil carbon, soil bulk density, and under-storey biomass data.  Already, some 1600 soil samples have been analysed. 

Nationwide forest inventory covers a total of 2,424 sample plots of 4km x 4km and is funded jointly by the Royal Government of Bhutan, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTFEC), European Union, United Nations Development Programme, GIZ and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). ICIMOD supports and oversees the forest inventory work for ten percent (thirteen districts) of sample plots and 20 percent in Tsirang and six western districts. These plots total about 240 and are being re-inventoried by independent inventory crews. With support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and ICIMOD, a concept to set up a forest inventory and carbon information management system is being prepared by a team from the forest resources management department. In time, a work plan will be developed to address information required for Forest Reference Emissions Level (REL) and general safeguards.

NFI is a resource intensive process and poses many challenges — lack of financial and technical expertise, difficult terrain and landscapes for field work, difficulty in convincing decision makers for equipment procurement. 

Once the NFI is complete, a possible nine crews will be employed to complete the re-inventory work by the early part of 2016. Field work in the other four districts is underway and scheduled to be completed early next year. Quality assessment and quality control are also being conducted in Tsampchi. Efforts by the department in achieving NFI objectives is clearly positive despite the challenges of funding and technical assistance for Bhutan.