The beginnings of the initiative can be traced back to 1960 when the village community started facing severe shortages of fuelwood. The reason was illegal felling carried out by the neighbouring village, Rakchham. The entire village of Chhitkul decided to protect the forest and the surrounding alpine pastures. Initially they faced conflict with Rakchham village. The traditional village council (called maith committee) took the responsibility of managing the designated area under protection.
Some of rules followed by the maith include:
1. Quantitative restrictions were laid on fuelwood collected from the forest for personal consumption. Only one headload per household per day was allowed.
2. Fuelwood collection for sale was not allowed.
3. The right to collect medicinal plants from the alpine pastures is auctioned by the community every 4–5 years to local contractors. (In 1998, it was auctioned for Rs 4 lakh.) Seasonality of extraction was to be prescribed by the maith committee.
4. No extraction of any kind was allowed in the intervening years.
For regulating the extraction of medicinal plants, a committee is appointed by the villagers before the extraction of medicinal plants, to ascertain the regeneration since the last auction, the amount available for extraction and the minimum bidding amount. The same committee is also made responsible to monitor the extraction process. The money from the auction of medicinal plants is then used for village development works. The status after the declaration of the sanctuary in 1999 is not known.
The village council includes everybody in the village—all men, women and children. The council meets every month to discuss relevant issues. Attendance is compulsory. The village leader is elected every two years. The post is rotated between different families. Re-election is not possible for several terms. Lower castes participate fully and also assume leadership positions. Conflicts are dealt within the community itself in the traditional system of resolving conflicts.