By Alton Byers, The Mountain Institute
On 30 May, 2003, the International Conservation Committee of the AAC announced that it will financially support a major new conservation initiative in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park, home of Mt. Everest. “Community-Based Conservation and Restoration of the Mt. Everest Alpine Zone” will address the increasing impact of trekkers and climbers on the high altitude alpine landscapes. The project will be implemented in partnership with local Sherpa communities, local non-government organizations (NGOs), Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, and The Mountain Institute’s (TMI) Nepal Program.
The project’s primary concern is the continued over-harvesting of slow-growing shrubs and high altitude plants for tourist lodge fuel, a process I believe has accelerated since I first identified the problem during my dissertation research in 1984. Local people say that many of the hill slopes in the region have become “growing glacial moraines” during the past 20 years because of the increased erosion and instability that has resulted from these trends. The alpine ecosystems surrounding Mt. Everest, both in Nepal and Tibet, simply cannot endure this kind of pressure much longer.
The project was officially launched on May 28, 2003, the fiftieth anniversary of the first ascent of Mt. Everest, and has received a substantial amount of international publicity since then. It will be one of the first projects of its kind that combines community driven management and action with the results of extensive scientific research. AAC and TMI expect the program to set a precedent for similar projects in affected alpine regions throughout the mountain world, including the Andes and East African Highlands, within the near future.
The five-year project will be based on recommendations proposed by local Sherpa communities to protect and restore the heavily impacted alpine ecosystems of the upper Imja Khola watershed, gateway to the Everest base camp and popular trekking peaks. It will be implemented and directed by these communities in partnership with government agencies, NGOs, international NGOs, and the trekking and climbing communities. Activities will include strengthening community planning and implementation skills through training; the restoration of high impact areas; and increased education of both local people and tourists. Other activities planned include forming local Alpine User Groups; building porter shelters on trekking routes and stocking them with alternative fuels; constructing enclosures that protect the hillsides from overgrazing while promoting native plant re-establishment; and establishing restrictions on the harvesting of juniper shrubs.
During October-November 2003, TMI’s Ang Rita Sherpa (Project Field Manager and son of Sir Edmund Hillary’s head sirdar in 1953), Dumbar Thapa, and Vinod Aravind launched the project’s Phase I activities by conducting a detailed survey of alpine lodges in the upper Imja Khola region. Project planning with Sherpa stakeholders, interested NGOs, and government partners was also initiated. At present, the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN), Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone (SNPBZ), and local youth groups have all expressed interest in working with the project in the coming years.