Traditional beliefs in Bhutan continue to reinforce respect for and even worship of the environment. These have been translated into policy frameworks. The Constitution of our country mandates that a minimum of 60% of the total land area should remain under forest cover at all times. Much ahead of this proclamation, Bhutan had conservation policies that reflected a deep understanding of the need for environmental conservation. For example, the first Act passed by the National Assembly after its inauguration was the Forest Act of 1969. Today, 72.5% of Bhutan’s total area is under forest cover, over 29% has been designated as parks and wildlife sanctuaries with an additional 9% as biological corridors. Consequently, over 38% of the country is under some form of conservation. These efforts have resulted in environmental returns, an important one being the availability of fresh water resources in the form of numerous springs, streams, rivers and lakes. It has been estimated that Bhutan has one of the highest per capita availability of water.
Flora and Fauna
Within a small geographical area, there exists an amazing level of flora and faunal biodiversity. Bhutan ranks in the top 10 percent of countries with the highest species density in the world. There are a recorded number of over 7000 species of vascular plants, 46 species of rhododendrons, and 300 medicinal plant species. There are 201 mammal species and more than 770 species of birds, many of which are endangered or extremely rare. Some examples of these mammals are the Bengal tiger, snow leopard, takin, Himalayan musk deer, golden langur, and red panda, and the birds species include the black necked crane and white bellied heron.
Physiographic zones and Climate
Bhutan’s landscape rises from 100 meters above sea level to over 7,500 meters. There are three distinct physiographic zones namely the southern foothills (200 meter – 2000 meter), the inner Himalayas (2000 meters – 4000 meters), and the great Himalayas (above 4000 meters). These wide variations in the altitude has directly influenced the variations in the climatic conditions in the country, from hot and humid sub-tropical conditions in the southern plains and foothills, to temperate in the central regions to tundra conditions of perpetual snow and ice in the great Himalayan zone in the north. Temperatures vary according to altitude. The northernmost parts of the country experience long winters and a short spell of warm climate during the summer. In these parts, the average annual precipitation is only about 40 millimeters. In most central parts, a cool temperate climate is experienced from spring through summer and autumn. Winters can become very chilly and dry with temperatures dropping to below zero Celsius. In this region, a yearly average precipitation of around 1000 millimeters is common. In the sub-tropical south, several locations have registered up to 7800 millimeters per year. Notwithstanding the extreme differences in climatic conditions between the high elevations and lowlands, a major part of the country experiences the four seasons. Spring time generally starts in early March and goes to mid April. Summer brings with it occasional showers and continues through the monsoon months of heavy rains that can last from late June through late September. Autumn is characterized by bright sunny days and light snowfall at higher elevations, and can commence from late September or early October to late November. Winter sets in from late November until March with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common in areas above 3000 meters.