Pastoral Politics: Gaddi Grazing, Degradation, and Biodiversity Conservation in Himachal Pradesh, India

  • Saberwal V
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Two assumptions underlie the current conservation focus worldwide. The first is that democratic governments can restrict human resource use within protected areas, and the second is that human land use for subsistence leads to degradation and is incompatible with the maintenance of high levels of biological diversity. An examination of official policy documents over the past century indicates that Gaddi borders of Himachal Pradesh, northwestern Indian Himalaya, have used political influence to circumvent bureaucratic policies of exclusion and that there is an absence of scientific evidence to support the notion that Gaddi grazing leads to land degradation. Although grazing intensity has profoundly shaped the structure and composition of the Siwalik forests (the Gaddi winter grazing grounds), as demonstrated by transect-based data presented here, deviations from a supposed `'climax” community need not constitute degradation. A growing rather than declining cattle population attests to the regenerative capacities of these forest. Within the alpine meadows graced by the Gaddi in summer, mean plant species richness increased along transects originating at border camps and extending 250 m north of herder camp site. Intense grazing pressure or heavy manuring by livestock bedded at night are likely to be responsible for the observed low species diversity adjacent to the campsite, but the effect is insignificant at the level of the overall landscape. interviews with herders also suggest the presence of a sizable, though hunted, mammalian fauna in these high altitude meadows. Recognition of the difficulties associated with implementing restrictive policies, and the fact that human land-sue practices need not lead to degradation or to a decline in biological diversity, should lead to more inclusive conservation policies within protected areas as well as an expansion of the conservation focus beyond protected-area boundaries.

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  • Vasant K. Saberwal

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