The School for Field Studies (SFS) Himalayan Forests, Watersheds, and Rural Livelihoods summer program introduces students to Bhutanese culture, society, and environment. Traveling and trekking across valleys and ridges and through villages, students will gain an intimate knowledge of the diverse ecosystems and rural livelihood strategies, and conduct research on Bhutan’s priority environmental concerns and resource management and biodiversity conservation strategies.
Bhutan is nestled in the remote and rugged eastern Himalayas, a mountainous area characterized by some of the world’s highest peaks, extraordinary biodiversity, and deep cultural and religious history etched into the landscape. As one of the major biodiversity hot spots in the world, Bhutan is home to a beautiful array of birds, butterflies, and rhododendrons. The takin, snow leopard, golden langur, blue sheep, and tiger are among Bhutan’s diverse and charismatic fauna.
In this Buddhist kingdom, rich cultural traditions and social and political institutions reflect Buddhist principles of The Middle Path, integrating people and nature, traditional knowledge and modern science, and balancing economic growth and collective happiness.
In 2008, Bhutan shifted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy with the enactment of the kingdom’s first constitution. Because the majority of Bhutanese people still reside in rural areas and practice small-scale agriculture and forest product extraction, sustainable management of local natural resources is critical for achieving the four pillars of development in Bhutan: conservation of environment, good governance, equitable social and economic growth, and preservation and promotion of culture.
In this course, we explore the question of what role environmental services and natural resources play in rural livelihood and national development. The interdisciplinary curriculum integrates elements of Bhutanese culture and society, ecology, resource management, and rural development. With the central district of Bumthang as our classroom, and treks across valleys and ridges and through villages, students gain an intimate knowledge of local environments and rural livelihood strategies. We study and conduct research on Bhutan’s primary environmental concerns and conservation strategies.
SFS partners with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), an international research and training facility in Bhutan. SFS students contribute to the advancement of the Institute’s research agenda in several priority areas, including sustainable forestry, watershed management, and rural development. We address questions related to water scarcity and flooding, community and private forestry, and changing livelihoods and socioeconomic values.
- Observe four major vegetation zones during the journey from the capital city to the field station
- Visit the stunning Punakha Dzong and monasteries
- Overnight in Phobjikha valley, an important conservation area for the black-necked crane
- Field visits to community forestry projects, micro-hydropower stations and rural farms
- Homestay and cultural trek through villages and relict forests
The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) is a government institution whose mission is to serve as a center for research, policy dialogue, and training in the fields of conservation and environmental sciences. We live and study on the UWICE campus, set in the pastoral Chokhor Valley in the central district of Bumthang.
The administrative building at UWICE is a former king's palace and is built in traditional Bhutanese architecture with wood paneled walls and colorful decorations both inside and out. UWICE campus offers views the surrounding valley, the mountains swathed in clouds, and the occasional cattle or ponies grazing in the yard.
The modern dormatories and cafeteria are just steps away from the Dzong, where classes are held. A running trail behind the campus winds through the woods where wild strawberries, roses, and stream crossings accent the landscape. After classes, students can head up the trails for a quick run, hike, or yoga retreat. There is also a volleyball court where students can challenge the locals in competitive play or opt to play a rousing game of Snooker in the lounge.
Note: The program operates in rugged and rural environments, taking us (often by foot) to high altitude and to villages with pit latrines and simple diets. The trek and field work requires participants to be in excellent physical condition. Flexibility and patience are equally important attributes for the successful participant.