April 23, 2016 – More than 150 acres of rainforest within Handapan Ella Forest situated in Rakwana has been completely destroyed by a recent fire. A team from Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka met the Divisional Secretariat of Kalawana and Rakwana Range Forest Officer on Wednesday April 20, 2016 to discuss the issue and proceeded for a site visit. After passing several tea planted lands in the border of the forest, the team reached the site of the burnt forest and recorded its GPS location 6°27’25.6″N 80°36’09.3″E
There have been many forest fires in recent times set by persons encroaching into the forest to clear the land for tea plantations. Fires are also setup by poachers to target wildlife during dry season. Due to lack of enforcement, culprits have always been free to continue destroying the pristine rainforest by setting fire during dry season. Drought conditions in Rakwana and surrounding area have worsened due to rapid deforestation and destruction of catchment areas. The conservation of headwaters and the rainforests that support them should be a primary priority for Sri Lanka due to predicted impact of climate change. Unfortunately, the relevant Government authorities at Forest Conservation Department, Ministry of Environment, Central Environmental Authority and Land Reforms Commission do not have proper coordination nor a genuine interest to take ownership and address the root cause of deforestation.
Large areas of pristine rainforests in Ratnapura, Galle and Kandy districts still fall under Land Reforms Commission (LRC) and while a 2004 Cabinet directive instructed Forest Conservation Department to acquire and protect these forests, more than a decade has passed with no action. This situation has resulted in finger pointing between Forest Conservation Department and Land Reforms Commission when deforestation issues are reported. The Minister of Environment portfolio has been held by several Ministers during the last decade including the current President, non of whom has resolved this burning issue. Therefore, we urge the relevant Ministries and Departments to coordinate, take ownership, vest all forests currently under LRC over to Forest Conservation Department and initiate action immediately against perpetrators.