Since 2019, losses in dense forests exceed gains in net cover

Releasing on Wednesday the biennial India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021, which has recorded a total gain of 1,540 sq km of forest since 2019, Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav stressed on “maintaining forest quality” as the government’s top priority. Gave. However, the report testifies to the continued loss of natural old-growth forests across the country.

While Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Karnataka and Jharkhand contributed the most to the national gain in forest cover, and the Northeast reported the largest loss, the ISFR 2021 numbers showed a total of 1,643 sq km of dense forest destruction, which is the highest in 2019. have become non-forest.

More than a third of this loss has been compensated by the conversion of 549 sq km of non-forest (canopy density less than 10%) areas to dense forests (over 40% canopy density) since 2019. These are plantations of fast growing species. Natural forests rarely grow so fast.

Since 2003, when “Change Matrix” data was first made available, 19,708 sq km – more than half of Kerala’s landmass – of dense forests has become non-forest in the country. The decadal rate of this destruction of quality natural forests has increased from 7,002 sq km during 2003-2013 to 12,706 sq km since 2013 (see chart).

On paper, this loss has been compensated by rapidly increasing plantations as 10,776 sq. of non-forest areas became densely forested in two consecutive year windows, about two-thirds (7,142 sq. km).

Among the five states that have recorded the maximum overall gain in forest cover since 2019, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka show net losses in dense forests (see chart). While Jharkhand maintained the status quo, Telangana claimed a significant increase (348 sq km) in dense forest cover.

This trend remains in the top five losers. While Arunachal Pradesh (418 sq km) and Manipur (158 sq km) lost more dense forests than open forest patches, neighboring Nagaland, Mizoram (86 sq km each) and Meghalaya (36 sq km) also lost dense forests. Significant damage was recorded.

Other major loss of dense forests include Madhya Pradesh (143 sq km), Jammu and Kashmir (97 sq km), Assam (66 sq km), Uttar Pradesh (41 sq km) and Tripura (31 sq km). Apart from Telangana, Chhattisgarh (81 sq km), West Bengal (66 sq km) and Maharashtra (30 sq km) recorded significant net gains in dense forests.

Overall, the forest area has increased to 7,13,789 sq km or 21.71% of the geographical area of ​​India. Including plantations outside the recorded forest areas on plots of less than one hectare, the total green cover now stands at 8,09,537 km (24.62%). India remains one of the top 10 countries in terms of forest cover, with Brazil leading with 59.4%, followed by Peru at 56.5%.

Releasing the report, Minister Yadav said that 17 states now have 33 per cent forest cover. “Mangroves have also increased, which is encouraging as they are extremely important for the protection of coastal areas from natural calamities like cyclones… The forest produce list is also being prepared and will be presented soon.”

Since 2019, the area under mangroves has increased by 17 sq km to 4,992 sq km, and the tree cover has increased to 721 sq km. Out of 52 tiger reserves, 20 have registered an increase in forest cover since 2011. Overall, the forest area in tiger reserves and corridors has decreased by 22.6 km (0.04%). There has been an increase in the reserves of Baksa, Anamalai and Indravati while Kaval, Bhadra and Sunderbans have suffered the most.

The report puts the total carbon stock in the country’s forests at 7,204 million tonnes – an increase of 79.4 million tonnes compared to 2019. It also identifies 35.46% of the forest cover as prone to forest fires.

ISFR 2021 attributed “improved conservation measures, conservation, afforestation activities, tree plantation campaigns and agro-forestry” to an increase in forest cover or an improvement in forest canopy density, while it focused on cultivation, felling of trees, natural disasters, anthropogenic pressures and developmental activities attributed. To the detriment, especially in the Northeast.

The report, however, makes no distinction between the origin of “tree crops (whether natural or man-made)”, and “all trees with bamboo, fruit-bearing trees, coconuts, palm trees, etc., on plots of 1 hectare”. makes no distinction between “species”. and above and with “canopy density of more than 10 percent” are included as forest cover.