BHUBANESWAR: With the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) refusing to approve Odisha Government’s proposal for a reduction in the notified area of Satkosia Tiger Reserve (STR), the latter has offered another 400 sq km of forest areas in lieu of the loss.
The additional forest areas are located in the three divisions of Athagarh, Athamallik and Angul, sources said.
Last year in February, the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) had given its nod to carve out 191 sq km from Satkosia, a low-density tiger reserve. Of this, as much as 159 sq km was to be denotified from Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary which forms a large part of the tiger reserve.
The SBWL, chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, had approved the reduction of sanctuary area from 795.52 sq km to 636.495 sq km.
However, the NBWL, the apex body on the matters of wildlife, struck down the approval forcing the State Government to rethink its strategy. In lieu of the reduction from the STR, it has now offered 400 sq km area of adjoining forests in the three divisions.
While the exact pockets of forests proposed to be added to the STR have already been identified, a two-member standing committee of the NBWL arrived in the State on Wednesday to make physical verification and assess the feasibility.
Led by eminent elephant expert Dr Raman Sukumaran and Dr Debabrata Swain, an Odisha cadre IFS officer now posted in the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), the team would visit Satkosia on Thursday. Sources said the State Government has nominated Anup Nayak, RCCF of Angul Circle and Field Director of STR, as its representative to the committee.
However, the reduction of the STR area has remained contentious. While the State Government contends that it proposed to denotify 191 sq km from Satkosia, the NBWL estimates the area at 228 sq km. The standing committee would also take up this matter for appraisal.
The State Government, which has received flak for trying to reduce Satkosia’s area, has also submitted that the denotified zones would remain part of the buffer zone of the STR where eco-development plans can be implemented.
Satkosia has been under severe anthropogenic pressure because of its proximity to human habitations and consequent interference. While most of the area proposed for denotification has villages, the fringe sectors of the STR are dotted with human settlements.
While the successive tiger enumerations pointed at a steady decline in the large cats, the proposal for reduction was described as disastrous for the tiger habitat which has lately showed signs of improvement.