Hundreds of sandalwood trees were allegedly axed by smugglers at Sriramadevarahalla reserve forest area in Belur taluk here on Friday night. Sources said the smugglers escaped leaving the logs on the spot.
The forest, which sprawls over 4,000 acres, has more than five lakh naturally-grown sandalwood trees. Over 90 per cent of the sandalwood cover in the forest is natural. The Forest Department had planted over 1,000 saplings a decade ago as well.
However, it is yet to take steps to fence the area, making it easy for smugglers to enter.
Most of the smugglers, who are mainly from states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, dig up the roots of axed trees as they have more fragrance.
Four years ago, a forest officials nabbed red-handed four smugglers from Andhra Pradesh and handed them over to the police.
Meanwhile, the Forest Department is also facing severe staff shortage, making it difficult to control smuggling. Presently, there are six officials, including three guards and three forest watchers, who have been appointed to guard the area.
Ramanna, a farmer, alleged that the Forest Department, which has banned tree felling on private lands, has failed to protect trees in reserve forests in the country.
“It is shame that the authorities have not taken steps to protect sandalwood which is a valuable and endangered plant,” he said.
Sources said the department has submitted many proposals to higher authorities to fence the forest, but in vain.
A guard said that smugglers often escape because of the lack of a fence and adequate security. The forest, which is has the biggest sandalwood cover in the state, has no rest or guard room for officials to stay overnight and keep watch either.
Deputy Conservator of Forests Lakshman was not available for comment.