With glad tidings every two years, India State of Forest Report (ISFR) comes with greater bearings of our past performances in regards with Forest land.
Issued by Forest Survey of India, it is an assessment of the country’s forest and tree cover.
Compounded using the remote sensing techniques, the recent report released has indicated an increase of 1,540 square kilometers (sq km) in the country’s forest cover, i.e. from 2019 to 2021.
Findings of the ISFR 2022:
As per the stated definitions by Forest Survey of India, ‘forest cover’ denotes all lands consisting of a hectare or more with canopy density of minimum 10 per cent, irrespective of legal ownership or land use.
While there is a difference between forest cover and forest area, the geographical area that gets recorded as ‘forests’ in country’s government records is actually forest area.
This constitutes about 23.3 per cent of the total geographical area and hence, also includes areas those cannot be classified as being forest cover.
India’s total forest cover stands around 713,789 sq. km, or 21.71 per cent of the total geographical area of the country, an empowering increase from 21.67% in 2019.
This has been further aimed by India to increase to a considerate 33 per cent of the total geographical area of the country.
The registered 1,540 sq. km. of net increase in forest cover has been attributed to the five states being Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Odisha, because of their respective pressing schemes in favor of plantation and agroforestry.
While eleven states of the country reported a decrease in forest cover.
Knowing what’s deep in the analysis: Which forests have increased?
A deeper analysis also explains a reason to worry of Environmentalists and Forest Experts in the country.
As per the report, forests have been surveyed based on four categories:
- Very dense forests (with canopy density over 70%)
- Moderately dense forests (with the canopy density of 40 to 70%)
- Open forests (with canopy density of 10 to 40%)
- Scrubs (of canopy density lesser than 10%)
The first kinds or the pristine forests, composing about 2.7 per cent of the country, have registered an increase.
The largest increase has been found in the Open Forest category (an increase of 2,621 sq. km.) while moderately dense forests have registered a miserable decline i.e., 1,582 sq km, which, as per Experts depicts greater degradation of a high category of forests to falter into the lower category.
Similarly, scrub forests have increased by 5,320 sq. km., indicating complete degradation of forests in the surrounding area.
Despite the rejoice of a healthy increase in the forest area and cover, it is to note that 35.46 % of this hard earned proportion remains prone to forest fires: 2.81 % is extremely prone to burning, 7.85% is very highly prone and 11.51 % is highly vulnerable to fires.
Another report by Global Forest Watch organization explains how 2.8 million hectares of Indian land has been burned alone in 2021. It also elucidated the loss of 38.5 Kha of tropical forest in India between 2019 and 2020 which is around 14 per cent in total.
Can all this change with the advent of climate change?
It is not unknown to anyone that India lies vulnerable to extreme climate change impacts, as per Climate Risk Indices available worldwide.
Consequently, the report has dared to forecast that by 2030, 45-64 per cent of the forests in India will begin experiencing the effects of climate change and global warming in all states becoming hotspots except the ones in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
Ladakh with the forest cover of just 0.1-0.2 per cent and closer to the crucial Tibetan Plateau, is likely to be the most affected. This may change the entire weather regime of India, as they assist with Indian Monsoon and even shifting of Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).
With the climatic conditions fluctuating, even the agro-climatic zones for various plant species are shifting. The ability of a particular place to nourish a particular range of crops, is vanishing suddenly.
For example, Sikkim has depicted a shift in vegetation pattern for 124 endemic species. Similarly, the apples growing in the colder parts of Uttarakhand, are barely surviving the heat. Or the butterflies and Moths, as Indicator species, are travelling to higher latitudes to sustain.
Much to our surprise and resentment, 1.2 lakh forest fire hotspots those got detected in 2019-20 through sensors, increased to 3.4 lakh in 2020-21 alone.
Deforestation, therefore, is a growing threat and with no action on ground, it is only going to increase. With deforestation, several other perishing threats may follow like frequent droughts or floods, desertification, water scarcity, scant rainfall etc.
Meanwhile, even the pledges undertaken at COP26 this past year remain under-respected and unfulfilled.
When the world governments are introducing and forcing policies to grow more and more trees, at the same time, they are releasing irresponsible orders for clearing their older forests, regardless of the fact how the ecological benefits of one older tree are equal to or more than the benefits provided by nearly 99 younger trees.
Research done by the Forest 500 non-profit group has recently graded and held 350 companies as responsible for producing, using or trading commodities those help drive deforestation.
These are in addition to the 150 biggest banks or fintech firms those help fund these companies.
“Too few companies recognize the climate risks that are caused by deforestation, with few including their supply chains in their reporting,” explains the spokesperson of the Organization.
“Halting agriculture-driven deforestation to halve emissions and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 is not an option but a necessity for companies credibly committed to net zero”.
“There is no pathway to keep 1.5C within reach without that.”