The SFS Center for

Himalayan Environment and Development Studies




SFS students live and study at the Center for Himalayan Environment and Development Studies, located in the town of Paro in western Bhutan. From the Center’s verandas, students can enjoy the views of the flowing Pachhu (main Paro River) and the beautiful Paro Valley. Our location in Paro provides us with access to a variety of field sites in several districts, all within a 3-hour drive. Paro is also the location of the famed Taktsang Dzong Monastery, or Tiger’s Nest — one of Bhutan’s most revered Buddhist sites, built into the side of the massive cliffs overlooking the valley.

Issues we focus on


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Semester Program

Himalayan Environment and Society in Transition

Bhutan, a land defined by snowcapped mountains and lush valleys, is modernizing rapidly. Explore how Bhutan strives to secure its rich culture and biodiversity amidst change. Learn about Bhutanese culture, environment, and a development approach influenced by the Buddhist Middle Path. Learn More
Fall 2018


August 27 - December 5

Spring 2019


January 28 - May 8

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Summer Session I

Eastern Himalayan Forests and Rural Livelihoods

Explore Bhutanese culture and environmental topics including sustainable forestry, watershed management, and rural development in this extended, six-week summer program. Learn More
Summer 2019


June 3 - July 11

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Who We Are

The Bhutan team has a unique blend of talent and comprises international and national governmental experts as well as professionals from civil society organizations. Led by Dr. Nawang Norbu, the team collaborates to address the joint research priorities of the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER), the Bhutan Ecological Society (BES), and SFS, focusing on conservation, development, watershed management, rural-urban migration, and sustainable forestry, among other topics.

Featured Staff

Sonam Phuntsho

SFS Program Coordinator, Center for Himalayan Studies

Sonam holds a Master’s Degree in Forestry Science from the Australian National University.

As Program Manager, Sonam oversees the day-to-day operations of the program. Sonam belongs to the civil service of the Bhutanese government and serves as a researcher for UWICER. His research interests include the study of sacred groves in Bhutan and the impact of community forestry. Sonam has been with the program since its inception in 2010.

Read More about Sonam
Sonam Phuntsho

Our Research

The Center’s research agenda addresses issues related to modernization in Bhutan, namely the support of rural livelihoods and the conservation of biodiversity in the face of a changing society and landscape. By getting to know the local and national institutions that contribute to the management and governance of environmental resources, students gain an appreciation for the complexity of identifying and addressing conservation issues in a developing region. In collaboration with our partners, UWICER and BES, we examine the government’s goal of enhancing the condition of forest, river, and mountain ecosystems while balancing modernization and cultural preservation. SFS students contribute to the advancement of this collaborative research agenda in several priority areas including sustainable forestry, conservation biology, water resources, socioeconomics, human well-being, and policy. Underlying themes of the research we undertake include biodiversity conservation, natural resource and water management, rural-urban migration, climate change impacts and adaptation, and sustainable livelihoods.

Key Research Examples
  • Abundance and status of key economic species, assessed through baseline biodiversity analyses
  • Impacts of community forest designation on rural livelihoods
  • Socioeconomic aspects of human rural-to-urban migration
  • Human-wildlife interactions and conflict mitigation
  • Effects of land use on water quality
  • Interest in and potential for ecosystem services payments
Select Publications

Meitzner Yoder, L. S., Phuntsho, S., Conrad, A., Doren, H., Haney, R., Johantgen, C., . . . Zegas, G. (2017). From Farmers to Foresters? Response to Pine Encroachment on Former Swidden Fields in Choekhor Valley, Bumthang District, Bhutan. In M. Cairns (Ed.), Shifting Cultivation Policies: Balancing Environmental and Social Sustainability. UK: Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International.

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For the past week and the next few days, I am a dendrochronologist.

I take cores from trees with an increment borer, and look at the distances between the rings on the cores. I can get an idea of how fast a tree is growing and was growing (sometimes more than a hundred years ago with these trees).

Henry Ortmeyer
Swarthmore College, Bhutan Spring '17
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Community Collaboration

With the results of our research, we offer data and recommendations that inform decision-makers and build relationships between SFS and local stakeholders involved in biodiversity conservation and resource management. As at our other Centers throughout the world, SFS is a part of the social fabric of the community. SFS students get involved in community volunteer projects and social activities such as stream clean-ups, promoting environmental awareness in local schools and within the community, and playing sports with Bhutanese students and Buddhist monks and nuns. Students participate in a short homestay to experience Bhutanese culture and lifestyles. During their research projects, students work closely with rural communities, sometimes living with local families for short periods of time.

Local Community Partners

  • Ugyen Wangchuk Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER)
  • The Bhutan Ecological Society (BES)
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forests—Department of Forest and Park Services

Contributing to the Community

  • Fundraising for RENEW, a local non-profit
  • River and stream clean-ups
  • Environmental education programs with nature clubs in local schools
  • Trail maintenance and landscaping
  • Service to the monastic community
  • Cultural exchange through day-stays with local families
  • Tutoring services and game days with local children

Life at the Center


SFS students live and study at the Center for Himalayan Environment and Development Studies, located in the town of Paro in western Bhutan. From the Center’s verandas, students can enjoy the views of the flowing Pachhu (main Paro River) and the beautiful Paro Valley.

The Center

  • Shared student rooms with private bathrooms
  • Dining hall
  • Classroom
  • Common hall for lectures and studying
  • Table tennis, badminton