SWAT: Once known for its thick forests, clear waterfalls and wildlife, Elum valley is fast losing its grandeur to unchecked tree felling by both timber smugglers and locals.
Located in the south of Swat district, the valley links Swat with Buner and consists of 19 villages with a population of over 6,000.
According to interviews conducted by The Express Tribune, a majority of the locals rely solely on illegally cutting and selling trees in southern parts of the district. Though a number of people said they are aware that the practice is banned and is depleting the valley’s forest resource, they claimed that due to lack of jobs and investment in the valley they have no other means to earn a living.
“We have no other source of income but to cut woods and supply it to big cities,” said a wood cutter, Izhaar Allam. He said the work is difficult as there are no link roads and they have to cover a distance of over 8 kilometres on foot to cut and transport the trees. “If we had the option, we would prefer working in the city any day,” he added.
Some of the locals interviewed, who expressed concern over valley loosing its beauty due to unchecked tree felling, said they don’t have the support to curb the practice.
“Back in 1969, there was a thick forest here but some influential people have been involved in chopping down the trees. If we try to stop them, we face death threats,” said Shaib Jamal, an elder of the valley. He said the locals also cut trees, but claim that is only for cooking and heating purposes. He alleged that the tree smugglers work in connivance with officials of the forest department, who seek grafts for allowing them to illegally cut and transport the trees.
“If the government provides us with basic facilities and work opportunities we will not cut a single tree,” said Adalat Khan, a resident of Nari village in the valley. “But we are completely dependent upon these woods to earn a living,” he reasoned.
To protect the forest from further damage, locals have demand the government to provide them with basic facilities. They insisted that they prefer having access to cities where they could do legitimate work to earn a living.
When approached for comments on the issue, an official of the forest department of Buner district denied the allegations that the department employees facilitate tree smugglers. He insisted that there is strict vigilance over illegal cutting of forests in the valley and the guards are performing their duties efficiently.