Hubballi , (DHNS): The 'Great Canara Trails' will be opened for trekkers to walk down the untrodden paths in the pristine forests of the Western Ghats only if the Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Bengaluru, submits a positive report after a scientific study.
The Forest department's ambitious project will be implemented only after receiving a 'sustenance' report from a third party, the CEE, informed Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PoFF) Punati Sridhar.
The department decided at a recent meeting to ask the CEE to conduct a scientific study on the impact of allowing trekkers into the Western Ghats. "We will decide on the fate of the trail based on the findings of that report," he said.
The Forest department is expecting the CEE to submit a report in three months. The third-party study aims at an impartial report on the impact of human carbon footprint in the hitherto out-of-access forests.
Claimed to be the longest forest trail in India, it runs to almost 270 km, starting from Jog Falls in Shivamogga district to Castle Rock on the Goa border in Belagavi district. If opened for public, the trek will allow easy access to the people to mesmerising waterfalls such as Burude Jog, Unchalli Falls and Shivaganga Falls. But the project has been facing stiff resistance from environmentalists as they fear that human footprint in these forests would result in irreversible damage to the Myristica swamps in the Katlekan forests, which are among the most endangered forest eco-systems.
Human access will also affect one of the last 'hiding grounds' of endangered species like lion-tailed macaques in the Malemane forests, they say. However, Forest officials are claiming that the entire trek route could be designed, keeping in mind the findings of the report.
"The department is ready to leave out eco-sensitive areas," said Sridhar. After the environmentalists and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) raised objections, the Forest department redrew the 97 km trail route, away from the core area of the Kali tiger Reserve, but including its buffer zone.
"We (forest department) will be the last persons to allow any damage to the forest area. But at the same time, we are also aware that conservation of forests cannot be done in isolation. We need people's participation and this nature-based tourism is being taken up to create awareness among the masses," he said and added that they expect only 'serious nature lovers' to trek 10 kilometres a day, which will be held under the supervision of a naturalist and guide.
Forest department sources said the great Canara Trails would help control illegal trekking adventures that people undertake.
Compared to the present jeep safari, which is not affordable by many, this would be cheaper and more eco-friendly. The department is claiming that they are not constructing any permanent structure at its 17 camps, but use only those forest roads which were used by village residents for long.
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