Red Flags in Kashmir's Green Gold - A Jungle Survey

By Mudasir Mehmood Malik

FOREST Survey of India is the premier organisation of Government of India which maps, prepares inventory and publishes the report on the Forest resources of country every two years since 1987. The organisation has done great job in generating useful database for policy makers over years to take informed decisions in managing forests of India. The present report titled ISFR-2021 is 17th such report published by the organisation. Despite the criticism regarding various aspects of the report like definition of Forests the data compilation and mapping exercise of such a large and diverse landscape is a magnanimous job. The present writeup on the report is to have an insight into the report, to bring clarity on various aspects which are vigorously deliberated upon and to reflect on what the report has in it for Jammu & Kashmir.

Definition of Forest as per ISFR:

The Forest Survey of India for the purpose of the report defines ‘Forest Cover’ as all tree patches having canopy density of more than 10% and area of 1 Hectare or more irrespective of land-use, legal status and ownership.

Now the issue that is most debated is whether it includes orchards, private plantation etc under the forest cover. The answer to this question is ‘Yes’. But is FSI transparent about this the answer is again clear ‘Yes’. The data generated and given by FSI for various UTs and States clearly reflects it and as it is with any scientific data you have a basis and accordingly you need to interpret it. The report clearly mentions the Forest Cover within the Recorded Forest Areas (Legal Forest) and Forest cover outside Recorded Forest area i.e., private plantations & orchards having area more than 1 Hectare. Thus, it is for researchers and policy makers to interpret the same rather than simply generating the narratives.

Insights for Jammu & Kashmir from the report:

By going through the report many threads can be picked regarding the direction in which green cover of Jammu & Kashmir is progressing. There are many green flags to get encouragement from, red flags of concern and yellow flags to pause, reflect and act for J&K. The inferences drawn are purely on the data available in the report and are open to scrutiny.

The Green Flags:

The Forest Cover within the Recorded Forest Area:

The Forest Cover within the Recorded Forest Area (Recorded Forest Area is the legal forest managed by Forest Department & duly demarcated) has shown an increasing trend and as compared to last report. The area under forest cover within RFA has shown an increase of 954 sqkm from the last report. Further the area under Very Dense, Moderately Dense & Open Forest has increased. A comparison is given below:

              ISFR-2019                                                                             ISFR-2021

This can be attributed to enhanced protection of forests, increased efforts at afforestation, better transparency and accountability and most importantly the people’s involvement,PRIs, NGOs etc on large scale which is giving great results. Further focus on problems of socio-economic upliftment of people and developing the assets whichhelp in increasing the livelihood opportunities are becoming pivotal in this regard. A visible and great example of this would be Kandi Forest Range of Kamraj Forest Division where eco-development activities were taken by democratising decision making. The success of the programme is for everyone to see and is now being replicated in whole of the J&K by way of opening of trekking routes, eco-parks and biodiversity parks and other such initiatives.

The Red Flags:

Tree Cover outside Recorded Forest Areas:

The tree cover outside Recorded Forest areas included plantations, orchards and other scattered trees grown on farmlands etc. This is cause of great concern as the area under trees or green cover outside the Recorded Forest Areas has tremendously fallen and at an alarming rate. The tree cover outside RFA has fallen by 6658 sqkm since last two years which is huge and can be catastrophic to the environmental resilience, livelihoods and sustainable development needs of J&K. A comparison of same is given below:

ISFR- 2021 ISFR-2019 Net Change JKUT
Extent of trees outside forests  

11,722

 

19,334

(Includes 954 sqkm of Ladakh UT)

-6,658 sqkm

 

Further if we compare the top trees by number of stems between ISFR 2019 and ISFR 2021 outside RFA we can immediately realise that where the decrease has occurred. The Poplars which dominated the tree cover outside the Forest are not in Top 5.

The main reason which I can infer from above is massive felling of poplars owing to some policy/legal decisions over years. The government has taken right step in this regard by constituting the Poplar commission and hopefully they will take note of this and give right direction to poplar cultivation in J&K and give confidence to people in taking this up again. Poplar is not only insurance crop of rural economy but also it is most important tree which helps in conservation of natural forest by taking the demand away from them for timber. Other reasons can be rapidly happening urbanisation especially the horizontal expansion, reducing the areas occupied earlier by trees.

The Yellow Flags:

There are many yellow flags or the areas in which we need to pause, reflect and then act with renewed wisdom. These give us an opportunity to refine our policies and shape them for improving on present.

1. Forest Regeneration/ Rejuvenation:

An interesting inference regarding regeneration of forest can be drawn by comparing the trees by diameter class in ISFR-2019 and ISFR-2021 and it can be corroborated by any field forester. The tables for same are given below:

               (ISFR-2019)                                                                                      (ISFR-2021)

If we compare the trees in Top 5 Pinus wallichiana (Kail) and Cedrus deodara (Deodar) have improved their rankings while as Abies pindrow (Fir) has gone down. If we critically examine it further the number of stems for Pinus wallichiana and Cedrus deodara have almost doubled while as for Abies pindrow has remained static. This indicates the Kail & Deodar Forest are having very good health. While as forests dominated by Fir are not recruiting new stems and should be our area of focus. The Fir forests have not great regenerating potential and need special attention and further they are under huge grazing pressures since they occur in higher reaches frequented by graziers. Unless the Fir forests are freed from anthropogenic pressures and supplemented by Artificial regeneration it will remain cause of concern. The department has taken special projects on Fir regeneration but it will need massive efforts and research backing by universities like SKUAST to solve this problem as it is more of scientific problem than a managemental one. The department needs to pay attention to developing Fir planting stock and knowing the nurseries we have for other conifers especially Kail & Deodar we can do a good job here too.

2. The Grasslands:

The report is focussed on Trees however it gives an indication on the extent of Grasslands we have. As per the report the grassland area of JKUT is around 4437.70 sqkm. Grasslands need detailed study and we have to ensure we are not increasing the tree cover at the expense of grasslands. The dwindling grasslands means reduced herbivores and increased man-animal conflict. Further reduced grasslands means reduced grazing grounds for nomads, cattle herders etc which will bring great amount of conflict, affect livelihood and in turn the economy. Also, the unique biodiversity of these areas will be put in red.

3. Defining a degraded forest:

The department has done tremendous job in increasing the green cover despite of the difficult decade in which forests were most hit. Most of the forest areas lost have been reforested and the trend has always remained on positive side. However now is the right time to define where we want to take this Forest Cover which has become synonymous to tree cover. We have to define what is a degraded forest based on whether it has lost capacity to provide ecosystem services or others due to degrading factors like deforestation. Should we go on planting trees on all forest areas devoid of trees. Whether the ecosystems like scrublands, shrub dominated areas, grasslands occurring naturally are not important ecosystems which harbour diverse and unique flora and fauna. We need to have a course correction and focus on restoring landscapes and keep intact the natural ecosystems, their composition rather going ahead with only tree plantations. We need to define what is a Degraded Forest.
J&K has already sufficient area under Forest cover what we need to work on now is improving the health of these ecosystems by having scientific studies at micro-level and planning for each forest ecosystem in a holistic manner. We need to move from bird’s eye view to worm’s eye view for restoring our natural forest ecosystems.

Conclusion

The forest facts revealed by the report apart, the reality remains that Jammu and Kashmir is facing environmental challenges from last few decades at an alarming rates. Issues like deforestation, transformation of forest land for agriculture and residential propose are taking monstrous form. These malpractices exists when an estimated 1.6 billion people, or about 25% of the global population, rely on forests for their subsistence needs, livelihoods, employment, and income.

Of the extremely poor in rural areas, 40% live in forest and savannah areas, and approximately 20% of the global population – especially women, children, landless farmers, and other vulnerable segments of society – look to forests to meet their food and income needs.

But in the backdrop of this report, the need of the hour is to protract and improve the natural environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life in the valley. The focus of the government should be to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lacks and rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for the living creatures.


 

  • The views expressed are of the author and doesn’t represent the organisation he works for. Author is Deputy Conservator of Forests JK Forest Department

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