, Volume 44, Issue 5, pp 853-864

Landscapes of Protection: Forest Change and Fragmentation in Northern West Bengal, India

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Abstract

In the tropics and sub-tropics, where high levels of biodiversity co-exist with some of the greatest levels of population density, achieving complete exclusion in protected area contexts has proved close to impossible. There is a clear need to recognize that parks are significantly impacted by human–environment interactions in the larger landscape within which they are embedded, and to move the frontier of research beyond the boundaries of protected areas in order to examine larger landscapes where multiple forms of ownership and access are embedded. This research evaluates forest change and fragmentation between 1990 and 2000, in a landscape surrounding the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian state of West Bengal. This protected forest is bounded to the south by a less intensively protected area, the Baikunthapur Reserve Forest, and surrounded by a mosaic of unprotected, largely private land holdings. Results indicate differences in the extent and spatial pattern of forest cover change in these three zones, corresponding to different levels of government protection, access and monitoring. The two protected areas experience a trend toward forest regrowth, relating to the cessation of commercial logging by park management during this period. Yet, there is still substantial clearing toward peripheral areas that are well connected to illegal timber markets by transportation networks. The surrounding landscape, although experiencing some forest regrowth within less intensively cultivated tea plantations, is also becoming increasingly fragmented, with potentially critical impacts on the maintenance of effective wildlife corridors in this ecologically critical region.