John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

. (page 7 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

area the fire was allowed to spread so that later fires
coming from beyond that should die out through want of
material to feed their progress.

Some advance has been made on this very primitive
system of fire protection by forming a second trace or
cleared belt about 150 feet beyond the fire-trace encircling
the area to be protected, by endeavouring to keep the
fire within these limits when burning the debris, and by
repeating the firing at intervals as the dead leaves con-
tinue falling down from the trees. But no method has
yet been devised which can be applied to large blocks of
forest land so as to ensure efficient protection at a com-
paratively small outlay. During 1898, 1756 square miles
were successfully protected out of a total of 2,064 fire-
traced and attempted to be protected, at a total cost of
;^4,i57. This of course gives very little idea of the
comparatively high cost of protecting plantations and
cultural areas where numerous traces have to be cleared
and kept in proper order, large numbers of fire watchers
being employed for the purpose from the end of January
till the advent of the heavy rains about the end of April
or the middle of May. And the success of the whole
operation depends essentially and mainly on the goodwill
of the people living in the vicinity of the forests, who
can easily, with little risk of discovery, revenge them-
selves by incendiarism for wrongs or fancied wrongs done
to them by forest subordinates, by the Forest Department,
or by the State generally.

By 1880 the work of the Forest Department had
expanded so much and had become so important, that
the legislation provided by the Forest Act of 1865 was
found inadequate for the business that had now to be
controlled and administered. A new Act was therefore
passed in 1881, and rules under it were issued in 1882.
With modifications found necessary from time to time,
these still constitute the forest laws ; and they were
applied to Upper Burma shortly after the annexation in
the form of a Regulation, and of rules made thereunder,
with suitable alterations meeting the special local require-



ments. With the passing of the Burma Forest Act, 1881,
and the issue of the Forest Rules of 1882, the third and
most progressive period of forest history in Burma was
entered on.

It would be quite out of place to give here anything
like a complete survey of the Act and Rules, but mention
may at any rate be suitably made of the provisions under
which the reservation of State Forests, the fire protec-
tion of reserves, and the general working of the forests
take place.

Whenever it is proposed to reserve any particular
tract of forest, the forest officer who has examined it
submits his proposals, stating the objects of reservation
and giving the results of his inspection, a description of
the tract, and a statement of the boundaries proposed.
This report, accompanied by a map, is forwarded to the
Deputy Commissioner, the chief civil authority in each
district. After considering the proposals and recording
his concurrence or objections, the project is transmitted
to the Commissioner of the division, is forwarded by him
to the Conservator of Forests of the Circle, and submitted
by the latter through the Revenue Secretariat for the
orders of the Local Government. Thus, before any of
the necessary legal steps are taken towards reservation,
the civil authorities have an opportunity of recording any
prima facie objections they feel towards the proposals,
and the Conservator of Forests has the opportunity of
explaining away their objections or adducing additional
arguments for reservation.

On such proposals being preliminarily approved by
the Local Government a notification is published in the
official gazette specifying the situation and the limits of the
land, intimating that it is proposed to constitute the same
a reserved forest, and appointing a Civil Officer as Forest
Settlement Officer to inquire into and determine the
existence, nature, and extent of any rights or claims to
exertise privileges of various kinds within the specified
tract. This notification is also published in Burmese at
the headquarters of the township concerned, and copies
of it, together with an explanation of the consequences
that will ensue on reservation, are distributed to all the



villages and hamlets situated in the vicinity of the tract
in question ; while a period of not less than three months
is allowed during which the villagers may make written
or verbal objection to reservation. When this given
period has elapsed, the Forest Settlement Officer, who is
usually assisted in his inquiry by the Forest Officer,
visits the localities in question and makes formal inquiry
into the objections raised. Duly empowered with special
legal qualifications, he may alter the boundaries of the
proposed reserve so as to exclude land for the exercise
of Taungya or shifting cultivation, or may include
Taungya areas as separately demarcated tracts within
the reserve, or may refuse to permit this class of culti-
vation if amply sufficient land exists for its exercise
outside the proposed boundaries. Rights of way, of
watercourses, of water-user, of pasture, and of forest pro-
duce are also adjudicated on. If such claims are found
reasonable, they are provided for by excluding sufficient
land for their exercise, by recording an order granting
the privilege of pasturing so many head of cattle or of
extracting certain quantities of forest produce annually,
or by commuting the rights into a payment of money or
a grant of land.

On the termination of the inquiry the proceedings of
the Forest Settlement Officer are sent to the Deputy
Commissioner of the district, and a period of three
months is allowed for the receipt of objections to the
Settlement Officer's decisions. If such are received, the
Deputy Commissioner acts as appellate officer, and
approves, modifies, or upsets the judgments made by
the Settlement Court of first instance. The Settlement
proceedings are then forwarded to the Commissioner for
review and remark, who sends them to the Conservator
for submission to the Local Government. It is not until
all these prescribed legal steps have been taken and the
whole of the proceedings have been subjected to careful
scrutiny by various responsible officers and by the
Revenue Department of Government that final orders
are notified declaring the area in question to be a reserved
forest from a certain date.

Carefully as the existing rights of village communities



and of individual villagers or hill tribesmen are thus
inquired into and safeguarded, legal provision is made
for the revision by the Local Government of any such
notification during the following five years. Further
than this, provision is also made under the Act for
enabling the Local Government, with the previous
sanction of the Government of India, to direct that any
reserve or any portion of a reserve shall cease to be
reserved. Thus, if land suitable for permanent self-
sustaining cultivation should happen to have been included
within a forest reserve, and the increase of population
should subsequently show that it is desirable to throw
it out of reservation and utilize it agriculturally, the
necessary power for effecting such changes is provided
in proper legal form. In a thickly forested but thinly
populated country like Burma it seems especially desir-
able that forest reservation should, in the interests of
water storage and of agriculture generally, be carried out
as rapidly and extensively as is practicable, so that fresh
cultivation (except among the true hill men) should break
ground chiefly on the plains, leaving the cultivable por-
tions of the true forest tracts to be settled only when
rendered necessary by the increase of population.

It is not, and it never has been, the desire of the
Forest Department in Burma to drive the hill tribes out
of the forest-clad hills. On the contrary, it has ever been
its object to conciliate and win the goodwill of the
Karen and other hill tribes, whose assistance is essenti-
ally necessary for the formation of plantations, for furnish-
ing labour for cultural operations, for fire protection, and
for working the forests. Without having gained their
cordial goodwill and assistance, based on mutual
advantages, the history of forest conservancy could not
possibly have been the continuous record of material and
financial progress which it is.

For the last twenty-five years the work of reservation
has been pushed on as energetically as circumstances
have permitted. But many years must elapse before
it can be completed in the great forest tracts of the
northern portion of the province. When once the
demarcation of such permanent forest estates has been



effected, they will be found scattered more or less irregu-
larly over the face of the province, being of course mainly
confined to the hills in which the feeders of the great
rivers have their sources. Gradually, in course of time,
as population increases, all the land now under tree forest
will be cleared for cultivation, and only the areas speci-
ally reserved as State forests or demarcated as grazing
tracts will be left under tree growth. Already in some
of the more populous southern districts clearance of forest
has during the last quarter of a century proceeded so
rapidly as to have had a serious effect on the health and
mortality of the cattle, while the agriculture would also
have suffered grievously but for the fact that the districts
in question, not far removed from the seaboard, receive
copious rainfall from the south-west monsoon. The
nearer the heart of the central dry zone in Upper Burma,
the more important it is that forests should be reserved,
or formed in some parts if necessary, for the benefit of
agriculture apart from any of the other advantages to be

Clearing land, trespass, injuring trees, and setting fire
to a reserved forest are of course acts prohibited and
penalized. But the Act and Rules often make provisions
which it is practically impossible to carry out. For
example, with regard to fire protection the rule is as
follows : —

4. Between the 15th day of January and the 15th day of June no
person shall, within two miles of the boundary of a reserve, leave any
fire burning, unless he shall have taken the following precautions,
namely : —

{a) He shall at least one week before kindling such fire have

given notice of his intention so to do to the nearest Forest Officer ;

(d) He shall have cleared of inflammable matter a belt of ground

of not less than twenty feet in breadth around the place whereon

he proposes to kindle such fire ;

(c) He shall have kindled such fire at a time when no high wind
is blowing in the direction of the reserve.
Any person who in contravention of this rule leaves any fire burning
in such manner as to endanger a reserved forest is punishable under
section 26 of the Act with imprisonment for a term which may
extend to six months or with fine which may extend to Rs. 500
(;CSS\), or with both, in addition to such compensation for damage
done to the forest as the convicting Court might direct to be paid.



Fire protection is essential to the good management of
the forests, and it can only be successfully effected, as
already mentioned, through the goodwill of the people
together with considerable outlay. But the above
restrictions are totally at variance with immemorial
custom ; and any attempt to apply these powers, except
in glaring cases of actual incendiarism, would produce an
enormous amount of easily understood discontent. In
many matters the rules necessary for efficient forest
conservancy are quite at variance with the past customs
of the people, but there can be no doubt that the restric-
tions imposed upon an individual liberty which had
degenerated into license are requisite for the general
benefit of the province at large. And it is but fair to
say that the Forest Rules are applied only in a well
considered and lenient manner, which fully recognizes
the fact that in many respects they must appear harsh
and oppressive to those living in the vicinity of the

Within the reserved forests everything is the pro-
perty of Government, except in so far as absolute
ownership has been modified with regard to orders
passed at the time of reservation. On all other land
covered by forest teak and other reserved trees are
the property of Government, the trees actually reserved
varying in the different parts of the province. None of
the reserved trees can be cut or extracted without special
licenses. The felling and extraction of unreserved trees
growing on unreserved areas can take place unrestrictedly
by residents in the vicinity of the forests provided the
timber is to be used for bond fide agricultural, fishery, or
domestic purposes, or for religious works of public utility,
such as building rest-houses and bridges ; but felling and
extraction of timber, fuel, and other forest produce for
trade purposes can only take place under license and
upon payment of revenue.

The policy adopted is to confine the work of extrac-
tion so far as possible to the unreserved forests, so as
thus to utilize the existing supplies of timber of all sorts
before these areas are ultimately cleared for permanent
cultivation. Nothing is there done for regeneration and



reproduction. The forests are left to nature, and the
only protection given is to restrict the felling to trees of
mature limits. Trade licenses are thus given under
suitable restrictions for all kinds of unreserved and
reserved trees, except teak, the girdling and entire
control of which remains now, as formerly, in the hands
of the Forest Department.

In the State reserves, however, it is different. The
moment a forest has been declared a reserve it is, save
under exceptional circumstances, absolutely closed to
the girdling of teak or the extraction of reserved or
unreserved trees, or other utilization of produce not
specially authorized under the Forest Settlement. It is
thus practically closed even against departmental opera-
tions until a working plan has been specially prepared
for its future treatment.

The first regular working plan of this sort was made
in 1884, and since then steady though slow progress has
been made in the endeavour to provide sound schemes
of working for the reserved forests. As the work of
selecting reserves is still only in progress, as the forest
survey entails much time, and as the working plans
parties can only carry out their operations when detailed
maps are available, it will probably take more than
twenty years before all the reserved forests of Burma
can be brought under the provisions of specific work-
ing plans.

The basis of such plans is a map on a scale of four
inches to the mile, showing all the topographical details
of streams, hill-ranges, ravines, dells, swamps, and the
like. The preparation of these maps is entrusted partly
to the Topographical Survey branch of the Survey of
India, and partly to the Forest Survey branch ; and for
some years past three survey parties have thus been
continually employed in Burma for the preparation of
the maps necessary before the forest working-plans
parties can operate.

On the receipt of the maps each working circle — as
the area is called (usually a drainage area) to which the
provisions of one working plan are intended to apply —
is marked out in suitable blocks and subdivided into



compartments formed with due regard to the configura-
tion of the soil and its natural boundaries of ridges and
streams. The compartments often vary considerably in
size according to the nature of the forest and the quantity
of teak contained in it, but they usually average about
one square mile or more in extent. All over the forest
sample plots are marked off so as to be fairly evenly
distributed throughout the area, and these, amounting to
between one-fifth and one-quarter of the whole working
circle, are carefully examined to ascertain the existing
stock of teak trees of different girth-classes, from seed-
lings and poles below three feet in girth up to mature trees
above seven feet in girth, and of other reserved trees
girthing over three feet. At the same time investigations
regarding the rate of growth of teak are made by
means of Pressler's increment gauge or borer, a well
known German instrument, and by examining the annual
rings on the tree stumps to be found in every forest that
has been worked within the last twenty or thirty years.
The data acquired by counting out the sample plots and
by estimating the rate of growth of teak form the basis
for the proposals made in the working plan.

When the field work has thus been completed a work-
ing plan report is prepared. It first of all gives a
description of the situation, soil, and climate of the
tract dealt with, of the composition and condition of the
forest, of the past system of management, and of the
extent to which the forest produce has been utilized.
The bases of the proposals are then detailed, giving the
existing stock as estimated by the countings on the
sample areas, and the ascertained rate of growth of teak
from girth-class to girth-class. Generalizing broadly
from data collected in various parts of the country it
takes a second class tree (four and a half feet in girth)
about thirty-three to thirty-eight years, or say thirty-five
on the average, to develop into a first-class tree (six feet
girth); and it takes from 150 in moist forest to 180 years
in dry forest for the production of a fully mature teak
tree of seven feet or above in girth. With efficient fire
protection, however, as we know from the evidence of
our plantations, the time required should not exceed



about lOO to 1 20 years respectively in the moist and the
dry forests, while the timber itself will be of better
quality if its life history records no damage by fire.

The working plan usually confines itself only to pro-
posals with regard to the girdling of teak, because the
supplies of other reserved kinds of trees are not (unless
in exceptional cases like pyingado or ironwood if re-
quired locally for railway sleepers) intended to be utilized
in the meantime so long as supplies are still available for
utilization in the unreserved forests. Except in the very
dry forests, where teak of course does not attain such
large dimensions as in moister tracts with conditions
more favourable for vegetation, the girdling proposals
are limited to mature trees of seven feet in girth. The
whole term of rotation (about 150 to 180 years) is
divided into five or six periods of about thirty years
each, and the proposals of the working plan extend to
the utilization of the trees which have attained or will
probably attain fully mature dimensions during the first
period of about thirty years. It sometimes happens in
virgin tracts, or such as have been but little worked,
that the trees over seven feet in girth are largely in
excess of those girthing from six to seven feet, e.g., in
one working circle the former aggregated almost exactly
twice as many as the latter (28,671 and 14,391, over
94,694 acres). In such a case the question arises whether
the girdlings should use up all the fully mature timber with-
in the first period or should store some to equalize the out-
turn during the second period, the viodjis operatidi usxidWy
depending on the soundness or the overmaturity of the
old trees. Along with these specific girdling proposals
for teak, recommendations (sometimes general, sometimes
special) are also made with regard to works of improve-
ment, such as sowing and planting, fire protection, cutting
of woody climbers and epiphytic Fici, and blasting opera-
tions for facilitating the work of floating.

No working plan for any reserved forest can come into
operation before it has been approved by the Local Govern-
ment, and this approval is not lightly given. While the
field operations are in progress the working plans officer,
who has previously discussed the matter with his Con-



servator and who is always in direct communication with
him, submits a preliminary report setting forth the nature
and condition of the forest and sketching the proposals
he will probably make. This is forwarded with remarks
to the Inspector-General of Forests in India, and
returned to the Conservator along with any criticisms or
suggestions which seem desirable. On the working plan
and forest maps being completed they are submitted by
the Conservator to the Local Government, and forwarded
by them to the Inspector- General for favour of his
opinion and advice ; and it is not until the Local Govern-
ment have assured themselves that their technical advisers,
the Conservator and the Inspector-General, concur in
recommending the proposals submitted, that these are
approved and applied to the working circle for the next
thirty years or so.

And apart from these precautions, there is an additional
safeguard. The girdling thus sanctioned is a maximum
estimate, which must not in any given case be exceeded ;
but the work of girdling is carried out only under strict
application of sylvicultural principles. Hence it often
happens that in order to leave seed-bearing trees in parts
poor in teak some of the mature trees require to be left
standing in place of being girdled for extraction. From
this it must be clear that none of the reserved forests
can possibly be exposed to the danger of being over-
worked and becoming exhausted. The present average
annual outturn in teak is exceedingly low, but this must
gradually improve with fire protection and the cultural
improvements of various sorts now regularly taking place
for increasing the proportion of teak among the many
other kinds of trees forming the great majority in the
so-called teak forests.

It is impossible to give any description of the forests
of Burma in a few words. In Lower Burma alone the
enumeration of the trees made by the late Sulpiz Kurz,
in his Forest Flora of British Bu7^ma, 1877, includes
some 1,500 species; and the unknown species of Upper
Burma and the Shan States would probably increase this
total very considerably.

In speaking of the dry zone of central Burma, which was



previously described (vol. i. page 243), it was mentioned
that the rainfall increases considerably as one diverges
in different directions from this central area. And the
character of the forest covering throughout different parts
of the province varies to a considerable extent according
to the amount of rainfall, the humidity of the atmosphere,
and the prevailing temperature. One result of the great
general humidity of the climate and of the comparatively
low temperature of the greater part of the province as
contrasted with the interior of the continent of India is
that a large number of trees belonging to the forest
flora at the foot of the Himalayan range is to be found
at comparatively low elevations in Burma, growing along
with the more characteristically tropical vegetation.

Forests of an evergreen or pseudo-evergreen descrip-
tion are to be found in the littoral tracts and mangrove
swamps fringing the sea coast and occupying the mud
banks of the tidal creeks ; in the swamp forests covering
the depressions in the alluvial plains and the low lands
subject to inundation during the rainy season ; in the
tropical forests growing luxuriantly in the shady valleys
and on the cooler hill slopes in the regions of plenteous
rainfall ; in the damp hill forests, with their oaks, chest-
nuts, and magnolias, often to be found at elevations of
from 3,000 or 3,500 feet upwards ; and in the pine tracts
which occupy the higher regions of the Shan plateau and
the Chin hills.

None of these possess as yet any very great financial
value, but the tropical forests are marvellous in their
luxuriance of vegetation. Abundant rainfall on the one
hand, and complete protection of the surface soil and the
soil moisture on the other, are the essential requisites for
this type of forest. Hence they are not to be found
within the dry zone, but occur in all the other parts of the
country. Here the forest consists practically of three
tiers of trees, exclusive of the underwood of shrubs,
bamboos, palms, screw pines, rattans, woody climbers,