A meeting was conducted at Indradhanushya Environment and Citizenship Center, pune on 7th july, 2012, regarding biodiversity conservation of Kaas plateau in western Ghats.
Kaas Plateau is known widely for its specialized biome and abundance of endemic species. It has been rated as a biodiversity heritage site by the UNESCO.
With increasing repute, the plateau of Kaas is facing unaccustomed environmental pressures like tourism. Unconstrained exploitation of this sensitive ecosystem is resulting in rapid dilapidation of rare diversity of flora and fauna.
Considering the need for organized efforts to conserve and protect the Kaas Plateau, this meeting was organized to congregate the Citizens, forest Department, researchers and the NGO sector for the cause.
Views/ opinions were invited from the citizens regarding following issues:
- Conservation plan for the Kaas plateau
- Current activity of fencing executed on the site
- Ethical guidelines for the visitors.
A compilation of all the responses was presented at the meeting, with remarkable ideas highlighted. Representations from researchers, NGOs and Government forest officials were presented and discussed. A refined compilation of the content of discussion will be used as a foundation for drawing a conservation master plan for the Kaas plateau.
Biodiversity of Kaas Plateau
Dr. Aparna Watve
- Geology: Kaas plateau is a rock outcrop or terrecrete termed as “saDa” locally.
- Minimal soil as compared to the exposed rock surface results in extreme climatic variations, giving rise to a unique ecosystem.
- Extremely rich in biodiversity, the plateau is a habitat for highly specialized species of flora and fauna.
- Though an ecological succession has been observed in this ecosystem, an estimated climax should not be anticipated.
- Various forms of algae and lichen inhabit the rocks as pioneer species.
- Mosses and ferns combat the climatic extremes by remaining dormant till the rains bring back the moisture.
- Crevices in rocks holding meager amounts of soil provide for variety of grasses and herbs during the months of monsoon.
- Ephemeral wetland species of plants flourish in the pools and puddles formed in rocks.
- Several species such as aponogeton satarensis that are endemic to western Ghat plateaus, are included in the IUCN red list as “endangered due to development of windmills and increasing levels of tourism”
- Since the flora of Kaas plateau is specialized, so are the insects and pollinators around them. Each flower has evolved to attract its specific pollinator forming a delicate and intricate network of interdependence and food linkage.
- The biodiversity of Kaas plateau provides pollination services, water resources to the agriculture and villages on its fringe.
- Kaas plateau is a very ancient habitat, established and stable in its course of evolution, unless disturbed by human impact. It claims a well-researched and organized conservation.
Preassures on Kaas Plateau
- Anthropogenic (Man-caused) pressures on the ecology of Kaas plateau.
- Tourism, A major fraction of disturbance is caused by unrestrained tourism activities.
- Polluting Air, water
- Causing traffic vibrations in soil
- Oil, diesel spills
- Spread of non biodegradable materials such as wrappers, cans, bottles, chewing gums
- Trampling through the micro-habitat of variety of herbs and grasses
- Soil compaction under the pressure of large walking crowds and tires of vehicles
- Fencinghas been installed along the roads, which in itself is causing an impact
- Introduction of seeds of exotic weeds through sand brought in for construction.
- Concrete mixing carried out, smearing the beds of grasses and herbs
- Concrete poles have been painted in toxic artificial paints, residues of these paints have entered puddles and pools.
- A gap of 45cm is left under the chain link as a biological passage. It may serve the reptiles and small mammals, though fails to allow wild cattle.
- Forest department has accepted to discontinue the fence at every 1km, though the corridors should be left only after considering natural migration routes of the fauna.
- Coming up of resorts, hotels and windmills is affecting the biodiversity in many indirect ways that cannot always be predicted and plugged in advance.
Role of Forest Department in Conservation of Kaas
- Out of the total area of Kaas plateau 3600 hectares, 1814 hectares is a reserved forest. Rest of the plateau is plotted and privately owned.
- It is impossible to fence the outline of kaas plateau due to its undefined fringe. (Also not advisable considering its implications on migrating fauna.)
- The staff available for the security and guarding duties is insufficient for such vast area. Extreme climatic conditions make it impossible to patrol the plateau for hours at stretch.
- Fringe villages with their increasing population of residents and cattle; over-exploit the resources from Kaas plateau.
- A planned tourism system is to be executed in Kaas. It will include
- Parking lots approximately 2Km away from the plateau. With banned privet vehicular entry of the plateau.
- An information center with food court and rest rooms for the tourists
- Provision of State Transport buses for internal commute.
- The forest department expects co operation and ethically responsible behavior from the citizens, researchers and NGOs.
- Any research activity should be executed on the plateau with prior intimation to the forest department.
- Fencing along the roads was executed by the forest department as an emergency precautionary measure. Its drawbacks are accepted and an alternative solution is welcome from the citizens.
Conservation Action Plan for Kaas Plateau
- Priorities for conservation have to be defined and clarified between all the entities working for the Kaas plateau
- Protecting the specialized ecosystem with its endemic flora and fauna should be given a higher preference than aesthetics of the flowers.
- The beauty of Kaas plateau and its ephemeral blossoms is only an outcome of its natural cycle. It should remain free from human impact irrespective of its beauty through human perspective.
- A legal protection can be provided to the plateau with the help of UNESCO heritage site rating & WGEEP Eco sensitive area rating. The forest Department can cover the plateau in additional protection by allotting NP, sanctuary or conservation reserve status to the plateau.
- Short term and long term solutions need to be worked out as an organized effort by the forest department, NGOs, Researchers and citizens together.
- A long term conservation plan has to be worked out through the process of working out small solutions.
- A detailed study and referencing of various aspects of Kaas as an ecosystem has to be carried out including the study of microhabitats, area wise species distribution, and detailed study of each specialized species.
- Land use pattern has to be organized such that 95% land is under conservation and only 5% to be used as public zone for roads, amenities.
- Traffic restriction is essential so is minimizing the area utilized for road building.
- Conservation plan should include micro planning for specialized conservation zones, local communities and their livelihood, infrastructural services for sustainable and disciplined tourism, privet land management.
- Carrying capacity of public zone should be calculated considering the availability of resources. Tourist entry should be restricted with that.
- A consideration should be given to migration corridors, local pedestrian circulation
- For the short term solutions, the flow of tourists should be regulated and “method of fencing” has to be reasonably chosen.
- If the fencing has to be installed as an emergency protective measure following considerations should be taken into account:
- Materials, finishes & construction techniques to be used
- Workers/ vehicular movements through the plateau.
- Where to fence, where to keep open
- Aesthetic responsibility of such installation in naturally scenic place such as Kaas.
- Long term measures to be taken in 2years of time
- Control on pedestrian/ vehicular circulation
- Zoning out accessible areas
- Waste management
- Parking provisions with allied public transport
- Guides and awareness methodology
- Basic tourist facilities such as rest rooms, food courts
- Each conservation activity to be thoroughly thought and consulted with experts and researchers in the concerned fields.
- Researchers and NOGs to be involved in committees for conservation of Kaas plateau.
- Regulations and restrictions and if necessary prohibitions to be imposed on tourism, construction and other human activities around Kaas.
- People should be taught to be responsible and behave as tourists. Awareness is necessary to understand, enjoy and respect the beauty of Kaas plateu.
Important Points from the Open discussion
- Fitting the conservation plan in a strong legal framework will enable the government officials to execute conservation more efficiently. –Mr. gogate (former chief Conservator of Forest)
- Bio corridors need to be designed after researching the natural habits of migrating fauna. –Mr. Bodhe (Wildlife board)
- An information center needs to be viewed through a more versatile perspective. It need not be a rigid structure but can be a mobile or temporary kiosk
- Locals need to be involved the conservation activity in a better contributing way than rag-picking.
- A committee of experts to be formed. The committee shall
- guide in sketching out the conservation master plan
- look over the execution of each conservation activity
- Organize and build network between all the entities involved in the conservation.
- A strong and responsible communication link needs to be established between public, government and non government sectors working for Kaas plateau.