Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Forest cover in the nation is thinning out ?

The latest survey conducted by Forest Survey of India shows forest cover in the country is around 20.6 percent of the geographical area, showing a decline of 728 sq km over the previous figure. This decline is mostly in the moderately dense category. Shifting cultivation, illegal felling of trees, construction of dams, etc are cited as some of the reasons. In Karnataka, there has been a marginal increase of forest cover by five sq km due to acacia plantations in Belgaum and Dharwad and coffee plantations in Kodagu. However deeper analysis shows that this increase is in the open forest category while a marginal decrease has been seen in moderately dense forests. This is of course not a desirable trend as it shows degradation of forest cover.

While the country figures for forest cover decline may not seem like a big figure, what the skeptics are saying is that even the present 20 percent has been arrived at by taking into account all kinds of plantations, including private plantations. In 1982, when the survey was done by the remote sense agency, the forest cover was shown to be a mere 13 percent. Since then it was taken over by the FSI. Inflated figures to cover up the loss of forest cover will have to be corrected and this will require an independent agency.

The survey gathers forest cover from satellite data and tree cover from field inventory. The problem arises because many states have not yet prepared their forest boundary data, crucial to identify tree cover separately from forest cover. This basically involves collecting records from revenue departments and verifying these by doing forest land surveys. It is only Kerala, Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh that have submitted these geocoded boundaries of recorded forests. Karnataka is in the process and hopefully by the next survey after two years will have the data ready. Anything with a minimum of 10 percent canopy cover is considered forest cover, as long as the land is spread over a minimum of one hectare. The former is due to the resolution of satellite images, which though have considerably improved from 400 hectares to 1 hectare. A look at the map of the country with its forest cover tells it all. Whether it is mining, or cultivation or development works, the forests have been at the receiving end. Going at the present rate, it will not take more than a few decades to strip the land of the forests. There will be no cover-up possible then.

Source: Editorial, Deccan Herald; May 2, 2008


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