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Shimla, Sep 16: Himachal Pradesh has begun an exercise with Central assistance to conserve the rare biodiversity spread over 7,000 sq km in the cold desert of the picturesque Spiti Valley. Sanction has been received for a Rs.5.12 crore ($838,000) comprehensive management action plan submitted by the wildlife wing of the state forest department to the environment and forests ministry at the centre. In the first phase, Rs.81.48 lakh has been sanctioned for this fiscal, a government spokesperson told IANS. Also Read - Himachal Pradesh to Enforce Five-day Office to Break COVID-19 Chain, Night Curfew Likely in Four Districts

He said the forest department would implement the project by involving local committees, especially women representatives from the gram panchayats, in the next five years. Spiti in Lahaul-Spiti district, the Buddhist-dominated area in the Himalayan terrain at elevations ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level, is part of 16 biosphere reserves that have been designated in the country. It’s the lone cold desert in the identified biosphere reserves. Also Read - People Caught Not Wearing Mask Will be Arrested Without Warrant in This District of Himachal Pradesh

The components of the plan include awareness and capacity building of local communities and staff, improving infrastructural facilities, habitat restoration, biodiversity conservation, socio-economic development through promotion of farm cultivation and animal husbandry, non-conventional energy and cultivation of medicinal plants.

The Pin Valley National Park and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary are also part of the biodiversity programme, the spokesperson said. The cold desert supports more than 500 herbaceous and scrub species, of which 118 are of valuable medicinal and aromatic values. The notable shrubby species include juniper, hippophae, myricaria, caragna, rosa, lonicera and ephedra.

The high-value medicinal species are aconitum, podophyllum, swertia, rheum, thymus and picrorrhiza. The rare wildlife species are the snow leopard, the endangered and elusive wild cat, wolf, brown and black bear, blue sheep, ibex, Tibetan gazzle, red fox, weasel, marmot, griffon, lammergeyer, golden eagle and snow cock.

Another central government-funded project, the snow leopard protection programme of Rs.5.15 crore, is also under way in the Spiti Valley, which lies on the state’s northernmost part and runs parallel to Tibet. The programme will take care of the flora and fauna in the snow leopard zone, said the official.

Studies by the wildlife department show the presence of seven to eight snow leopards per 100 sq km in the Spiti Valley. The department is already monitoring the habitat, range and behaviour of snow leopards in the Valley through camera traps (automatic cameras) and satellite collars.

The studies and research, part of the snow leopard protection programme, include dissemination of practices of biodiversity conservation, monitoring of glaciers receding and climate change. Through the support of local committees in taking decisions, the forest department would endeavour to achieve the plan objectives of holistic development of the area, the spokesperson added.

The training and capacity building components would target staff officials, other department officials and members of the local community and make them partners in its implementation. Lahaul and Spiti are populated mainly by Buddhists, who breed sheep and goats.