“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”
– John Muir
Such is the allure and enigma that forests hold.
We talk about our true wealth being our natural resources, forests being one of the primary ones. Often called the lungs of the cities or states that we live in, forests are considered an invaluable natural resource, not only for the many commercial uses, but also for being providers of life—the very oxygen that we breathe.
How is forest cover estimated?
Every two years, the Forest Survey of India, which comes under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change publishes the State of the Forests” report. This report is being published since 1987, and the last report was released was in 2015. Tree canopy density is the criteria used for classifying forests, as follows:
- Very Dense Forest: Land with canopy density of 70% or above.
- Moderately Dense Forest: Land with canopy density between 40% and 70%.
- Open Forest: Land with tree canopy density of 10% or more, but less than 40%.
- Scrub: Degraded forest land with canopy density less than 10%.
- Non Forest: Land that does not under any of the above categories.
India’s forest cover
The total forest cover, according to the statistics of 2015, had been pegged at 21.34% of the geographical area (701673 square kilometres). Of these, very dense forests are a mere 2.61%, while moderately dense forests are 9.59% of the total geographical area. Open forests are 9.14% and scrub forest is a mere 1.26%. Urbanization and industrialization, along with agricultural growth has led to the non-forest cover to become a significant 77.4%.
State-wise, Madhya Pradesh has the highest forest cover with 77,462 square kilometres under forest. Arunachal Pradesh stands at the second slot (67248 square kilometre) and Chhattisgarh at number three (55586 square kilometres).
India appears to be pretty green, with 15 states of union territories having a forest cover of more than 33%. In fact, seven states have more than 75% forest cover, these are typically the states where development has not become widespread, or is limited to pockets. We see that 40% of India’s forest cover is contained in nine patches that extend in size to about 10,000 square kilometres.
How has the forest cover changed?
The report is published once in two years, which makes it possible to assess the incremental change in the state of forests, every two years. A comparison of 2015 versus 2013 figures indicates an overall increase in the “Very Dense Forest” areas, by a significant 2402 square kilometres. Overall, we can see an increase in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Some of the key reasons for this positive growth are plantation activities by state forest departments and other conservation interventions by humans.
Moderately Dense Forests have reduced by 3371 square kilometres. The states of Mizoram, Uttarakhand, Telangana, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh saw an overall decrease. This is primarily due to diversion of forest land for developmental purposes, rotational felling in tea gardens, encroachment, mining activities etc.
Threats to Forests
Forest ecosystems are prone to destruction due to both natural and man-made causes. Forest dynamics are often affected by natural threats such as fire, insects and diseases. However, much of the risk is poses by human activities, in the quest for economic growth and development. Industrialization and globalization have led to encroachment of forest areas by big conglomerates and small scale industries. Agriculture was a major contributor to forests being cut down to make way for food production for the ever increasing population. New age threats like genetically modified crops (GMO) may prove to influence native tree growth through spreading of spores and seeds, though not scientifically proven. Thus, a mix of traditional and modern human-induced processes is proving to be the nemesis for our “green lungs”.
The root cause of depletion of forests is the incessant human greed, and culture of seeking more and more. In this quest for more, why not seek more green and more peace? Most of us know about these, but policy and will are what will make this awareness turn to action, thereby yielding positive results.
Did you know?
India’s forests are valued at a notional value of about Rs 115 trillion!
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