Context:

  • India’s forest and tree cover rises by 8,021 sq. km, up 1% since 2015, to 802,088 sq. km, which is about 24.39% of the total geographical area of the country.
  • The data was released by the Environment Ministry’s ‘India State of Forest Report 2017 released recently.

Introduction:

  • The State of Forest Report 2017, released by the Union Environment Minister Ministry of Environment & Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
  • The report contains information on forest cover, tree cover, mangrove cover, growing stock inside and outside the forest areas, carbon stock in India’s forests and forest cover in different patch size classes.
  • It was the 15th such report in the series.
  • The ISFR report is published in every two years.
  • The 2017 report is more comprehensive than the previous one as it is based on information from 633 districts compared with 589 covered in the 2015 report.
  • India targets having 33% of its GA under forest cover.
  • According to the report, at present 15 states and Union territories have more than 33% of their GA under forest cover.
  • As per the latest FAO report, India is 8th in the list of top 10 nations reporting the greatest annual net gain in forest area.

India’s present position in forest cover: global comparison

  • India has shown an increasing trend in the forest and tree cover, in comparison to the global trend of decreasing forest cover during the last decade.
  • India ranks among the top ten countries of the world in terms of forest area, despite the fact that none of the other 9 countries has a population density of more than 150 persons per sq km, compared to India, which has a population density of 382 persons per sq km.
  • India is ranked 10th in the world, with 24.4% of land area under forest and tree cover, even though it accounts for 2.4 % of the world surface area and sustains the needs of 17 % of human and 18 % livestock population.
  • As per the latest FAO report, India is placed 8thin the list of Top Ten nations reporting the greatest annual net gain in forest area.

Highlights of the ISFR 2017 report:

  • According to the report, 15 states and Union territories in India have more than 33% of their geographical area under forest cover.
  • The increase, based on satellite data and subsequent ‘ground truthing’, has put the total forest cover at 7,08,273 sq km which is 21.54% of the country’s geographical area.
  • According to the report, forest and tree cover together registered a 1% rise over the previous estimate two years ago.
  • It also shows the total mangrove cover stands at 4,921 sq km and has shown an increase of 181 sq km.
  • All the 12 mangrove states have shown a positive change in the mangrove cover, as compared to the last assessment.
  • Mangrove ecosystem is rich in biodiversity and provides a number of ecological services.
  • The ISFR 2017 shows that about 40% of the country’s forest cover is present in nine large contiguous patches of the size of 10,000 sq km or more.
  • The report, for the first time contains information on decadal change in water bodies in forest during 2005-2015, forest fire, production of timber from outside forest, state wise carbon stock in different forest types and density classes.
  • According to the report, the total bamboo bearing area was estimated to be 15.69 million hectares, 1.73 million hectare more than what it was according to the 2011 ISFR.
  • The only category that has registered a decline in the latest assessment is the Moderate Dense Forest.

Top five states where forest cover recorded high:

  • Report shows that three states – Andhra Pradesh (2141 sq km), followed by Karnataka (1101 sq km) and Kerala (1043 sq km) – have shown the maximum increase in forest cover.
  • The top five states where forest cover grew are Andhra Pradesh (by 2,141 sq.km), Karnataka (1,101 sq.km), Kerala (1,043 sq.km), Odisha (885 sq.km) and Telangana (565 sq.km).

Top five states where forest cover declined:

  • The report shows that the forest cover in five north-eastern states – Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Meghalaya – has, however, decreased in 2017 as compared to 2015.
  • This area reported a net loss of 630 sq km of pristine forests.
  • The report mentions the reasons for this decline as shifting cultivation, biotic pressure, rotational felling, and diversion of forest land for development activities, submergence of forest cover, agriculture expansion and natural disasters.

Reasons for decline in low forest cover in the past:

  • The problem of depletion and over-exploitation of forests.
  • The problem of simplifying a maze of rules and tune conservation with the needs of local communities remains a challenge.
  • Due to developmental pressure and climate change.
  • The forest cover has decreased due to harvesting of short rotation crops followed by new plantation and forest clearance in the encroached areas.
  • In the Northeast, the decrease in forest cover has been attributed to shortening of shifting cultivation cycle and biotic pressure.
  • Due to either development projects or encroachment.
  • Threat of organized wood smugglers and mafia.
  • Agricultural land development, by large and small scale producers, is believed to be the main driver behind the decreases.
  • Rapid population growth has resulted to the conversion of forest areas to non-forest lands for settlement and farming, urbanization and residential area expansion.
  • Unequal distribution of resources has led people to find their way to exploit the forests.

Classification of forests:

  • Taking into account the density (canopy covering branches and foliage formed by the crowns of trees), forest cover is divided into ‘very dense’, ‘moderately dense’ and ‘open’ forest.
  • The ‘very dense’ forest cover has increased over the last assessment of 2015, but the ‘moderately dense’ category reported a decline — a sign which environmentalists consider quite worrying.

Steps initiated for increasing forest cover:

  • National Mission for a Green India:
  • Enhancing quality of forest cover and improving ecosystem services of forest lands, including moderately dense forest cover, open forest cover, and degraded grass lands.
  • Eco-restoration to increase forest cover and eco system services in forest/non forest lands, including scrub lands, shifting cultivation areas, abandoned mining areas, ravine lands, mangroves and sea-buckthorn areas.
  • Enhancing tree cover in Urban and Peri-Urban areas
  • Increasing forest cover and eco-system services from Agro-forestry and Social Forestry of nonforest lands
  • Convergence with MGNREGA, CAMPA and National Afforestation Programme
  • National Afforestation Programme (NAP) for regeneration of degraded forests and adjoining areas through people’s participation.

National green highways mission

  • Union road transport and highways minister begins initial plantation drive along 1,500km of national highways at a cost of about Rs.300 crore .
  • The mission aims to provide a green canopy along 100,000km of highways and create jobs for 1 million youth.
  • Green corridors sustain biodiversity, regenerate natural habitat, benefit all stakeholders, from road users to local communities and spur eco-friendly economic growth and development.
  • The policy when implemented in letter and spirit will result into India being a “Nation with Natural Highways.

Way ahead:

  • The emphasis in environmental policy to raise forest cover to 33% of the geographical area will yield some dividends.
  • Forest restoration.
  • Scientific reforms to bring true nature back are needed.
  • Dedicated efforts will be required to protect the precious forests of the Northeast.
  • India needs to achieve a real Greening of India Programme to save millions of citizens living in the deltas, in the Himalayan foothills and also in its vast arid regions.

Conclusion:
Consistent increase in forest cover over the years was in sync with India’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change and the country would meet its target of creating additional carbon sink (2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent) through increase in forest and tree cover by 2030.

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