This case study depicts the conservation efforts undertaken in three villages, namely, Mega, Molo and Dipu, located along the River Siyom in the West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. The forests protected by these villages are legally categorised as Unclassed State Forests (USFs), under the Assam Forest Regulation Act, 1891, applicable to the state of Arunachal Pradesh. These stretches of forests have always belonged to the people and the management of these resources has been vested with the Adi Gallongs, the local tribe. USFs are not officially declared; but all forests that do not belong to any of the categories1 of Reserved, Anchal, Village Forest or Sanctuaries and National Parks are considered as USF in law. Large tracts of forests in the state of Arunachal fall under the category of USFs, and are used and managed by the local communities.
Mega village is 40 km from Along district headquarters on the Along-Mechuka road. Moyo is 25 km from Mega village and Dipu is 18 km from Molo. The Siyom River joins these villages and Molo village is situated at the conjuncture of the Siyom and Sike rivers. The state bus is the most efficient means of transport to get to Molo and Dipu villages. Mega has the largest population with 80 households; Dipu has 30 and Molo 25 households.
These villages are inhabited by the Adi Gallong tribe, which is one of the progressive sub-tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. The Adi Gallongs are animists and worship different elements of nature. In Adi society, the tiger is considered to be an elder brother and killing a tiger is considered the biggest sin. Killing of a tiger either by mistake or even in self-defence attracts very serious punishment in the form of a year-long period of penance during which the person has to live in isolation, cook his own food and is not allowed to join the community in various festivals and rituals including hunts. Adis were hunter-gatherers earlier but subsequently took to jhum (shifting cultivation) cultivation. The main occupation of the villagers is farming and the main crops grown by them are maize, mustard, millet, chillies, beans and pumpkin. As the younger generation is getting educated and not interested in farming, the manpower available for jhum is on the decline. Consequently, many villagers have now resorted to settled wet rice cultivation. With the rise in education, villagers have also found employment in government offices.
Prior to 1996, contracting out part of their forests for timber extraction to timber traders was one of the major sources of income for the villagers. These contracts were usually given out for secondary forests regenerating on jhum lands. In 1996, the Supreme Court of India banned extraction and sale of timber from all kinds of forests unless done under working plans approved by the Forest Department. As the villagers do not yet have approved working plans, the ban has resulted in a loss of income in these villages. This had led to a heavy dependence on non-timber forest products from the forest belt adjoining the villages. They collect boulders, stone chips, gravel, sand, toko or multipurpose palm leaves, charcoal, firewood, bamboo, cane and medicinal plants. Animal husbandry is yet another source of income to these villagers, who rear mithun (semi-domesticated cattle), pigs and fowls.
Topographically, this area is largely hilly and rugged, with some parts of the undulating mountainous terrain having a steep drop to the river. The community-protected forests are dense primary forests largely comprising sub-tropical evergreen forest species, with the presence of some components of tropical forest. Some of the cane species endemic to this general region and found in these forests include Calamus arunachalensis and Calamus khasiana. Some of the dominant floral species found in these forests are Actinodaphne obovata, dhup, dhale katus, bastard cedar, dalchini, thanet, mewa or mauwa, khewanua, Lindera sp., kusavithagari, Phoebe sp., ar kanla, East Indian almond, Vitex sp., rasamala, Cinnamomum spp., oak spp., hairy mountain fig, orchid, avacado.
Bamboo and cane species found here include rawthing or giant bamboo, Calamus arunachalensis, Calamus flagellum, Calamus inermis, takhe-tikhe, phulrua or red bamboo, and chal.
Some common species of mammals found here include barking deer, civet, Assamese macaque, tiger, leopard, jungle cat, fishing cat, common mongoose, smooth otter, yellow-throated martin, tree shrew, and hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel.
Avifauna species seen in this area include Kalij pheasant, rufous-necked hornbill, pompadour green pigeon, pin-tailed green pigeon, common snipe, common sandpiper, white-rumped vulture, crested serpent eagle, harrier, sparrow hawk, common kestrel, and greater racket-tailed drongo.
The Siang River Valley in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the two important corridors of Indian migratory raptors. Migration of raptors between Palaearctic regions and the Indian subcontinent occurs principally along two corridors: the Indus river and the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra river (when the Tsangpo enters India in Arunachal it is known as Siang, and later when it enters Assam it is known as the Brahmaputra). Out of the 63 species of raptors reported in India, about 75 per cent are reported from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. A total of 22 raptor species were recorded in a survey carried out under the aegis of ATREE, of which 10 are near-threatened and three are vulnerable species.