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Report on Forests: Anybody interested?

The news media doesn’t lend its voice to trees, who unfortunately cannot speak for themselves.

The report on the state of India’s forests, published once every two years since 1987, was released on February 7, 2011 by the Forest Survey of India. It barely got any coverage in media except for a few short articles with headlines saying that the survey blamed Naxals for decline in forest cover. Other reports just mentioned statistics without placing them in context. Sadly, environmental issues rarely ever make it to the front pages, either in editorials or prime time television.

Online here is what showed up. Here is a sample of 9 dailies’ coverage of the issue (online editions, which may or may not be much different from the print edition), and the Press Information Bureau (PIB) release.

S no. Newspaper Headline Word Count Date n Source
1 The Hindu Naxals blamed for decline in forest cover 263
2 Indian Express Gujarat: a cause of increase in mangrove cover 83
3 TOI India’s mangrove cover increases, Gujarat takes the lead 265
4 TOI India loses 367 sq. km. of forests in 2 years 581
5 Indian Express Survey blames Naxals for decline in forest cover 215
6 The Asian Age India’s forest cover declines, blame on Naxals in Andhra Pradesh 329
7 The Hindu – Business Line Forest cover fell by 367 sq. km. in ’11 340
8 Hindustan Times Green cover fading in Red zone, Northeast 341
9 Economic Times Andhra Pradesh reports loss of 281 sq. km. forest cover; Maoists said to be prime cause 275
10 Press Information Bureau – Press Release India State of Forest Report 2011 Released 568

 

Coming back to reality the picture isn’t much better. The United Nations Food and  Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported in (2005) that the Earth’s total forest area continues to decrease at about 89,000 acres per day, (the size of a football field every second). One is reminded of a proverb “Only when the last tree has been cut down, only when the last river has been poisoned, only when the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten!”The news media doesn’t lend its voice to trees, who unfortunately cannot speak for themselves. They can’t cry when they are cut, can’t shout SOS. Hell, they can’t even vote. A Hollywood movie called Chronicles of Narnia, based on fiction children’s literature by C.S. Lewis, depicted trees as mobile and able to speak. They swayed to the breeze, swinging their branches. The movie showed the trees becoming immobile and hurt as they were chopped for timber.

The foreword of the Forest Report by Jayanti Natarajan, present Minister of Environment and Forests says – “Earlier, the forests were seen as a vast resource of fuel, timber and fodder. Today humankind world over recognizes that forests quite literally hold sway over its breath.”

Yes, with every breath, you should thank a tree. According to some estimates one acre of thick forest will produce enough oxygen for 18 people annually. For India’s 1.2 billion population, simple mathematics tells us, we would need at least 6,66,66,666 acre or 2,69,790.4 sq km of thick forest. The Forest Report tells me that in India we have 6, 92,027 sq km of forest. More than enough to support our population you think? A closer look reveals 6,92,027 sq km of forest is divided into three sections – Very dense, moderately dense and open forest.  Very dense indicating a canopy density of 70% or more, is just 83,471 sq km in India!

Moderately dense are those with canopy density of 40-70%, and open forest are those with 40%-10%. They constitute 3,20,736 sq km and 2,87,820 sq km of forested area, which is the major bulk. Very dense forests are so miniscule that they can barely be spotted in the pie chart below.

(Source: State of Forest Report, 2011– Executive Summary, pg ix)

Today trees are important not only because they give oxygen, but they act as sinks for carbon dioxide. The table below tells us that there is millions of tons of carbon in our forest land, which if released, can catalyse climate change and have adverse effects.


 

Now, before you think this is a satisfactory picture, another observation:

It is a possibility that our Forest Reports will continue to say that our forests are growing, but our carbon sinking capacity can decrease in future. This is because essentially ground biomass and litter are part of a jungle. You might visualize a jungle as one with wild weeds on soil, tree trunks draped by vines and creatures on and around the trees. The kind we saw in Jungle Book. But according to Forest Survey of India, the definition of forest is much more inclusive, for better or worse.

Quoting from Chapter 1 of the Report, “Forest Cover as used in SFR (State Forest Report) refers to all lands more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy density more than 10%… Forest cover indicates presence of trees on any land irrespective of their ownership… Examples include plantations on community land, road side, railways, canals, eucalyptus, rubber, tea and coffee plantations etc. Such areas also constitute forest cover and are included in the forest cover assessment of the FSI.” So if you have more than 10% density of canopy of trees in the backyard of your large farmhouse, you are living in a jungle according to the FSI. But even this generous definition could not boost the statistics of our dwindling jungles, and the report revealed as much.

(In Executive Summary – pg viii)

The statement above only confuses further. The report doesn’t explain what exactly “interpretational change” is.

Any talk of forest and ecology has a tendency to be misconstrued as being against “economic development”. But unfortunately many forget that the source of all resource is the environment. And to be an economic power you need to have enough ecological resources. The table below tells us that some of the largest economies in the world also boast of a large forest area.

(In Chapter 1 – 10)

Hope the article will excite you enough to glance through actual report available at http://www.fsi.org.in/sfr_2011.htm

And more importantly, think about forests. I leave you with a song – often a favorite of those who are campaigning to save jungles, or whatever is left of them.

 

Image Source [http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/3426998799/sizes/o/in/photostream/]

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