Manual removal of lantana taken up under MGNREGA in Nagarahole

It is part of Forest Dept. plan to shore up availability of fodder for herbivores

Manual eradication of lantana, which has invaded large swathes of national parks, is being attempted by the authorities at Nagarahole through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme.

This is part of the habitat improvement initiative taken up by the Forest Department so as to shore up the availability of fodder for herbivores and mega species such as elephants.

Lantana is a weed which has spread across large areas of Nagarahole and the problem is also acute in the adjoining Bandipur as well. At Nagarahole, the lantana has spread across nearly 60 per cent of the national park which has an area of 843 sq. km including the buffer and hence there are concerns over habitat degradation in the long run.

To counter this, grassland development project has been launched in forests with focus on areas where the lantana problem is acute and this entails manual uprooting of the weed from its roots repeatedly a two to three year cycle so as to prevent its growth completely. In its place grass is being cultivated.

The issue was raised in the District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee meeting held in Mysuru recently and Mahesh Kumar, Director, Nagarahole National Park and Tiger Reserve, stated that the pilot project to manually remove lantana has been taken up under MGNREGA at a cost of ₹1.2 crore.

He said the project will create 14,000 man days of work and nearly 3,500 man days of work has already been generated and utilised. The project entails removing lantana over an area of 350 hectares. Though this is akin to a drop in the ocean considering the scale and magnitude of the problem, the project cannot be taken up simultaneously in all affected areas as this will create disturbance to wildlife.

Whether manual eradication of lantana is sustainable in the long run remains to be studied but supplanting the area with grass is expected to increase fodder availability in the national park.

Incidentally, grassland development has already been taken up in the adjoining Bandipur and parts of M.M. Hills Wildlife Sanctuary

The proliferation of lantana and other weeds including eupatorium and parthenium tends to suppress the natural regeneration and growth of fodder that is edible to the herbivore population. This shrinks the grasslands, forcing mega species such as elephants to stray into agricultural fields on the forest periphery resulting in human-elephant conflict which is already high in parts of Mysuru-Kodagu belt.

The proliferation of lantana also enhances the risk of forest fires during summer as these weeds are highly combustible and burn easily when dry. The weed tends to regenerate rapidly suppressing other edible grass from growing and takes over the habitat and the degraded habitat is abandoned by herbivores which migrate in search of areas with greener pastures, accentuating human-animal conflict.

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