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Trees and Woods

pexels-photo-989952.jpegContext:

Forest Survey of India, an organization under Ministry of Environment Forests & Climate Change recently published ‘India State of Forest Report 2017’ based on satellite imagery. The report presented a net positive balance in the form of 24.4% of India’s land under some form of forest cover.

India State of Forest Report 2017

India State of Forest Report-207 is a fifteenth biennial publication of Forest Survey of India (FSI)(MoEFCC). The Report provides state/district wise forest cover of the country and change thereon with the previous assessment.  It also provides the estimates of growing stock within and outside the forest areas, forest cover in hill, tribal and north eastern states.

ISFR serves as an important tool to monitor the country’s forest resources and plan suitable scientific and policy interventions for their management.

According to the report, forest and tree cover together registered a 1% rise over the previous estimate two years ago.

The Tree cover is estimated by using sampling based exercise and estimated partly through high resolution satellite data (Resourcesat-II with a spatial resolution of 23.5 meters) and partly through field level inventory data.

In the current report, along with Tree cover, information on Carbon stock in India’s forest and Bamboo resources have been incorporated.

Forests play an important role in mitigation and adaptation of climate change. Carbon data by FSI was reflected in India’s initial National communication submitted to UNFCCC. Carbon stock information has been used for deciding the target for India’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions).

What is the difference between Forest Cover and Recorded Forest Area?pexels-photo-38136.jpeg

The term Forest Cover refers to all lands more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy of more than 10% irrespective of land use, ownership and legal status. It may include even orchards, bamboo, and palm.

On the other hand Forest Area refers to all the geographic areas recorded as ‘Forest’ in government records under Indian Forests Act, 1927 and under other respective local acts. Such areas with less than 10% tree cover such as cold deserts, alpine pastures will be excluded from the assessment.

Technological and methodological advances enabled FSI to classify forest cover into three types.

  1. Very Dense Forest (Canopy Density>70%)
  2. Moderately Dense Forest (canopy density is 40% to 70%)
  3. Open Forest (Canopy density 10% to 40%)

The increase in the forest cover has been observed as 6,778 sq km and that of tree cover as 1, 243 sq km. The total forest and tree cover is 24.39% of geographical area of the country.

What are the Special Features of current FSI report?

  1. Forest cover in the country is assessed irrespective of ownership, legal status and land use. This information provides qualitative and quantitative attributes for effective forest management and devising appropriate strategies.
  2. FSI has given information on forest cover in and outside green wash area for those states from where digitized records are not present. Green wash areas are represented by forests by Survey of India during its survey.
  3. Information has been given for 633 districts by using new and updated district boundaries.
  4. State wise information on Carbon stock in the country’s forests has been provided.
  5. FSI fire alerts issued to State Forest departments during last five years has been provided.
  6. For the first time, the report contains information on the decadal change in water bodies in forests.

How does FSI data useful in Forest Fire monitoring?

Forest fires are a recurrent phenomenon in India during fire season which is generally from January to June.

In order to advise State Forest Departments on vulnerable areas, which are prone to forest fires in the near future, a pre warning alert system for forest fires has been developed and made it operational.

FSI has been carrying out real time forest fire monitoring at national level since 2004 using Remote Sensing and GIS Technology. The objective is to detect and inform state forest departments about active forest fires on near real time basis.

FSI alerts have considerably minimized the reaction time towards remedial and preventive measures on ground by state forest departments.

What are the Key findings of ISFR 2017?

  1. Very Dense Forest has increased by 1.36%as compared to the last assessment. This is very promising as VDF absorbs maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  2. Water bodiesinside forest cover have increased by 2,647 sq km during the last decade.
  3. Mangrove forests have expanded by 181 sq km. Maharashtra (82 sq km), Andhra Pradesh (37 sq km) and Gujarat (33 sq km) are the top three gainers in terms of mangrove cover. Out of the 12 mangrove states, 7 show an increase in mangrove cover and none shows any negative change.
  4. Top 5 states where maximum forest cover has increased are Andhra Pradesh (2,141 sq km), Karnataka (1,101 sq km), Kerala (1,043 sq km), Odisha (885 sq km) and Telangana (565 sq km).
  5. 15 states/ UTs have above 33% of the geographical area under forest cover.
  6. Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur — have more than 75% forest cover.
  7. India ranks among the top 10 countries of the worldin terms of forest area.
  8. Shifting cultivation, felling of trees, and diversion of forest lands for developmental activities, submergence of forest cover, agriculture expansion and natural disasters decreased the forest cover in India.

What are the measures taken by government for forest cover growth?pexels-photo-460621.jpeg

  1. National policies like Green India Mission, National Agro-Forestry policy (NAP), REDD plus policy, Joint Forest Management (JFM), National Afforestation Programme and funds under Compensatory Afforestation to states.
  2. Successful agro-forestry practices, better conservation of forests, improvement of scrub areas to forest areas, increase in mangrove cover, conservation and protection activities, among other things, have all led to an increase in forest and tree cover.
  3. This can be further enhanced by steps like the Green Highways (Plantations & Maintenance) Policy to develop a 1,40,000 km-long treeline with plantation along both sides of national highways.

What are the limitations of assessment of Forests in India?

An estimate listing very dense, moderately dense, open and scrub forests mapped through remote sensing does not really provide deep insights into the integrity of the green areas.pexels-photo-113338.jpeg

Report considers even plantation areas under its assessment. However, the ecosystem services performed by plantations that have a lot of trees grown for commercial purposes cannot be equated with those of an undisturbed assemblage of plants, trees and animals.

A cumulative loss of forests is recorded in Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal of nearly 1,200 sq km. The impact of such a loss must be seen against the backdrop of the Northeast representing a global biodiversity hotspot.

Any gains achieved through remediation programmes in Odisha, Assam, Telangana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur cannot compensate for it adequately.

Way Forward

Centuries of pre-colonial and colonial exploitation and development pressures reduced our ancient forest cover. Hence, Forest restoration should aid the return of native vegetation.

India must review its initiatives to revive forests, and move away from monoculture plantations that are favoured by even forest development corporations in many States.

Scientific reforms to bring true nature back are needed.

The latest assessment categorises more than 300,000 sq km of area as open forests with a tree canopy of 10-40%. These lands provide the opportunity to bring back diverse, indigenous trees.

Such a measure, combined with a policy against allowing open cast mining, can bring about a renaissance.

Dedicated efforts will be required to protect the precious forests of the Northeast.

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