How Bhutan Managed To Maintain 72% Of Its Land Under Forest Cover


This widely acclaimed feat was made possible, kudos to the far-sighted vision of a handful of people in the past.

(Source: Tourism Council of Bhutan)


By Younten Tshedup Kuensel

Dubbed as a champion of the environment, Bhutan is probably one of the few countries in the world that prefers building forests to concrete cities.

While trying to be on par with global developmental activities, the country also known as the ‘Last Shangri-La’, has successfully maintained about 72 percent of its total area under forest cover.

This widely acclaimed feat was made possible, kudos to the far-sighted vision of a handful of people in the past.

How it all began?

During a presentation at the third BLISS Talk Series in Thimphu on October 18, Former Minister, Om Pradhan, recollected how it all began for this tiny Himalayan Kingdom.

The Forest Act of Bhutan 1969 played a significant role in helping the country achieve its carbon negative status. Bhutan has done a lot to safeguard its environment, biodiversity and ecological heritage.

“We are all proud of it, but we must also realise that all these have happened because of the certain actions taken in the past,” he said.


Source: WWF


The Former Minister said that in the late 1960s through the 70s and 80s, the consciousness and the realisation of how the environment was being affected by human activities did not really surface.

Bhutan was however, a step ahead in the game. In 1969, the 1st Five Year Plan (FYP) had just concluded and works to implement the 2nd Plan was underway.

The main focus of the 2nd Plan was to make Bhutan accessible to the outside world with the construction of roads from the southern borderlands into the central areas.

With construction works in full swing, Om Pradhan realised that deforestation was inevitable and for various economic reasons, forest exploitation was also increasing.

According to him, new developments, earlier laws, rules and regulations were inadequate to address the emerging issues. On top of that, limited manpower and expertise also added to the growing challenges.


Map: Research Gate


By then, the land use rules and regulations in the country had also become outdated. While there were different categories under which land were used by the people, there was no clear understanding as to who actually owned the land, he explained.

Maintaining the traditional rights of the people

Given the urgency of the situation, the then Paro Penlop, His Royal Highness Prince Namgyal Wangchuck, clarified during a national assembly session that as far as the minerals under the soil of Bhutan is concerned, the ownership is with the state. Tsamdro and Sokshing, His Royal Highness said belonged to government.

“This was made clear but the traditional rights of the people were maintained,” the Former Minister said.

“People could still use the land, extract trees for construction and firewood. None of the traditional rights of the people were deprived.”

Om Pradhan said that following the blessings from His Majesties The Third and Fourth Kings, HRH Prince Namgyal Wangchuck spearhead the programme and took over vast unoccupied areas and converted them into forest reserves.

“That is why we have about 72 percent of the total land under forest cover today,” he said.

“Had it not been for these steps, Bhutan could have also lost several forested areas.”

Given its small size, Om Pradhan said that Bhutan’s impact on the overall environment of the world might be small, however, the example it has set remains far-reaching for the global community.


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.



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