Completely Re - Work the Overall Management Plan for the Sinharaja National Forest Reserve

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As the island's largest remaining tract of untouched lowland tropical rainforest, the Sinharaja National Forest Reserve's current overall management plan is in dire need of re - working. Although it was first declared as a National Forest Reserve (referred to in this petition as the Sinharaja NFR) on the 3rd of May 1875 (under the Waste Lands Ordinance), it has since had a second national designation (the highest one available on the island), as well as three international designations attached, and they are as follows (in order of importance):

1. Individual Natural UNESCO World Heritage Site (1989)

2. International UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve (April 1978)

3. National Heritage Wilderness Area (National Designation) (October 21st 1988)

4. Important Bird & Biodiversity Area (BirdLife International) (2004)

As a result of its two UNESCO designations, the Sinharaja NFR is legally required to be divided into three different zones, and they are as follows (interior to exterior):

1. The Core Zone (strict eco - system and landscape protection/conservation)

2. The Buffer Zone (scientific research and compatible ecological practices)

3. The Transitional or Peripheral Zone (sustainable economic development)

If the Sinharaja NFR's overall management plan is to be effectively re - worked then recognition, demarcation and enforcement of the Buffer and Transitional/Peripheral Zones is critical to achieving such a target. To achieve this both the aforementioned zones need to have their overall width increased to 2 miles each (a total of 4 miles). The Buffer Zone should be restricted to eco - system related scientific research and should remain an untouched wilderness, that serves the purpose of safeguarding the Reserve's Core Zone. The Transitional or Peripheral Zone should be divided into two 1 mile width segments, with the inner segment being managed through the planting of tall grass barriers, while the outer segment should be utilised for the purposes of conducting sustainable agriculture/agro - forestry (the latter preferably with floral varieties that are unfavourable to the dietary requirements of the Lowland Tropical Rainforest Elephants living within the Reserve. Finally, all of the villages located within the two aforementioned zones, need to be removed and relocated to suitable locations outside the Reserve's three zones. This would help relieve a large amount of the pressure that is currently placed upon the Reserve on a daily basis, and help reduce instances of the Human - Wildlife Conflict in the Reserve's vicinity (which would be mutually beneficial to all the parties involved). Keep in mind that an estimated 8000 - 10000 people live in 20 villages that almost completely surround the Reserve, so assistance for the removals and relocations mentioned above, should be be sought from the relevant Divisional Secretariats, the Land Reform Commission, the Central Environmental Authority and the appropriate Ministries.   

Additionally, the Reserve is (for management purposes), divided into two sectors and four sub - sectors by the Department of Forest Conservation (hereafter referred to as the DFC), due to the different types of eco - regions that the Reserve covers:

1. The Western Sector (Lowland Tropical Rainforest)

Further divided into North Western & South Western Sub - Sectors
2. The Eastern Sector (Sub - Montane or Lower Montane Forest)

Further divided into North Eastern & South Eastern Sub - Sectors
The Eastern Sector of the Sinharaja NFR (both sub - sectors included) (hereafter referred to as Eastern Sinharaja) is of particular importance to the scientific community, due to its location in the nearly completely devastated Sub - Montane Wet Zone. The forests found in this eco - region are unique, and different ecologically to the island's Lowland Tropical Rainforests and Cloud Montane Forests. This forest type is also (as of the 28th of June 2018), the most critically threatened forest type on the island, occupying only 0.05% of the island, even though only an estimated 45% of the flora and fauna contained within such forests is known to science. Furthermore, Eastern Sinharaja's terrain is extremely hilly and nearly impassible, thereby making this sector inaccessible to the vast majority of the island's human population. This has resulted in Eastern Sinharaja's retention of forests and eco - systems that are millions of years old and virtually untouched, creating a "Lost World" that continues to inspire, amaze and interest the general public, despite the technological advancements of the 21st century.

It also needs to be noted, that the Sinharaja NFR is part of its own Collective Protected Area (hereafter referred to as a CPA), the South Western Biodiversity Super Cluster, and is the largest Protected Area (hereafter referred to as a PA) in the heavily fragmented Sinharaja Rainforest Complex which includes a number of PAs:

1. The Dellawa P.R. (Other State Forest)

2. The Morapitiyarunakanda P.R. (Other State Forest)

3. The Waratalgoda P.R. (Other State Forest)

4. The Neluketiyamukalana P.R. (Other State Forest)

5. The Kudumiriya P.R. (Other State Forest) 

6. The Delgoda Conservation Forest

Any re - worked management plan, needs to include the six PAs mentioned above and ensure the integration of such PAs into the Sinharaja NFR, an action that will increase the current size of the Reserve (298 square kilometres), to a size that is more conducive to its long term future. Furthermore, there is an estimated 2500 acres of unprotected, primary Lowland Tropical Rainforest under the control of the Land Reform Commission (hereafter referred to as the LRC), which needs to be integrated into the Sinharaja NFR (as a result of Cabinet Paper No. PS/CS/26/2004, dated as on the 22nd of July 2004), an action that after 18 years, has yet to actually be implemented. This would expand the overall size of the Reserve to 323 square kilometres, especially important for the last remaining Lowland Tropical Rainforest Elephants (one of the island's three regional Elephant variants), as it would ensure the expansion of their continuously dwindling range, thus contributing towards their future existence. As of the 28th of June 2018, there are only two such Elephants in the Sinharaja NFR, both of which are males (and are thought to be siblings). Since there are no female Elephants of this regional variant present, these two males have turned their sexual frustrations into anger, and directed it towards certain villages on the Reserve's Boundary (i.e. where the Core and Buffer Zones converge). It is very important to remember, that this anger is entirely justified as the inhabitants of certain villages engage in illegal activities such as deforestation, poaching, illicit alcohol production, land grabbing, unauthorised construction etc, etc, and have tried to badly maim/murder the two aforementioned Elephants, in order to freely carry out such illegal activities. Additionally, plantation companies involved in tea and rubber production, have illegally encroached upon several historical Elephant corridors, blocking the Elephants traditional (localised) migratory routes. Under this much pressure, retaliation by these two Elephants is expected, but such issues are solvable. The introduction of 2 - 4 domesticated female Lowland Tropical Rainforest Elephants (following a period of rehabilitation and close monitoring), would satisfy the needs of the two Bulls, and lay the groundwork for the recovery of this regional variant's overall population (important given the fact that historically, the highest density of Elephants on the island, was found within the Wet - Zone's Lowland Tropical Rainforests, Sub - Montane or Lower Montane Forests and Cloud Montane Forests). Currently the two Sinharaja Bull Elephants traverse the length and breadth of the Reserve's Eastern Sector, alongside (potentially) the highest density of Black Leopards on the island. This is a result of a recessive allele, which in Leopards tends to emerge in the tallest, thickest, greenest forest types, which usually are low in light penetration (in this case the three forest types mentioned above have the highest chance of ensuring the birth of a Black Leopard). Based on the number of Black Leopards that have been killed on the Reserve's Boundary, estimates have suggested that there are anywhere between 10 - 20 Black Leopards living in the Sinharaja NFR (with the majority of them inhabiting the Reserve's Eastern Sector).

The issues surrounding the last two Lowland Tropical Rainforest Elephants evolved into a serious political struggle between the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development (hereafter referred to as the MSDWRD) and the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment (hereafter referred to as the MMDE), following the decisions made by both the Minister (Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka) and the Deputy Minister (Palitha Thewarapperuma) of the MSDWRD (due to the demands of two particular villages located on the Reserve's Boundary), to remove and relocate the two Elephants in question, inevitably signing their death warrants, given their specialist behaviours and dietary requirements as a regional variant. However, thanks to the intervention of the Minister (President Maithripala Sirisena) of the MMDE, this action was halted indefinitely, before it was carried out. This state of affairs has also undermined the authority and mandate of the DFC, as the Department of Wildlife Conservation (hereafter referred to as the DWC), was selected to carry out the removal and relocation operation. Adding to the already hostile rivalry between the DFC and the DFC (with the same applying to their parent ministries), the selection of the DWC resulted in public erosion of the DFC's control and authority over the Sinharaja NFR. Ergo, if the DFC is to effectively manage and safeguard the Reserve, then the DWC should never be allowed to undermine the DFC's mandate in any manner, ever again. Instead, the DWC should follow the lead of the DFC, with regards to the administration of the Reserve's wildlife, and work in conjunction with the former, to achieve the goals relating to wildlife conservation in and around Sinharaja (i.e. through cooperation, knowledge sharing and diffusion).

For those who aren't aware, the Sinharaja NFR is among the top five most valuable PAs on the island, with a floral endemism percentage that is over 60% and a faunal endemism percentage that is over 50% (extremely impressive, given the Reserve's currently dwindling size). As far as large or "charismatic" mammalian fauna are concerned, the overall populations aren't as secure or numerous as those in the island's Dry - Zone, though the sheer variety and number of endemic avian fauna is more than enough to make up for this large mammalian fauna deficit. Species such as the Sri Lankan Wood Pigeon, the Red - Faced Malkoha, the Green - Billed Coucal, the Sri Lankan Blue Magpie and the Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot, are among the numerous avian endemics that inhabit the Reserve. Examples of endemic mammalian fauna include the Southern Lowland Wet - Zone Purple - Faced Langur (alternatively known as the Purple - Faced Leaf Monkey) and the Sri Lankan Leopard. Other genera that display high degrees of endemism include Reptiles and Amphibians (the latter of which has nine species identified as endemic). It should be noted that as far as flora is concerned, the average height of the Reserve's canopy is between 35 - 40 metres on average, with certain heights (impressively) exceeding 50 metres. Additionally the Reserve is an ecological laboratory for butterflies (which form an order classified as Lepidoptera), with over 50% of the aforementioned order identified as endemics to the island's Lowland Wet - Zone. 

All of the steps mentioned above are absolutely necessary to ensure the Reserve's future, indirectly and directly benefiting the numerous communities that depend on the Reserve's existence, for their financial needs, thereby enhancing the standards of living and education in the process. As such, the support of the general public is needed, in order to bring about the changes (as well as the associated, positive dividends) mentioned above, safeguarding the Sinharaja National Forest Reserve.



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