January 15, 2022 - 11:02 am

India's Forest Cover Has Increased Once Again

    THE MINISTRY of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) released the Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021. The report showed a continuing increase in forest cover across the country, but experts flagged some of its other aspects as causes for concern, such as a decline in forest cover in the Northeast, and a degradation of natural forests. It is an assessment of India’s forest and Tree cover, published every two years by the Forest Survey of India under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The first survey was published in 1987, an ISFR 2021 is the 17th.

    ISFR 2021 has found that the forest and tree cover in the country continues to increase with an additional cover of 1,540 square kilometres over the past two years.

India’s forest cover is now 7,13,789 Square kilometres, 21.71% of the country’s geographical area, an increase from 21.67% in 2019. Tree cover has increased by 721 sq km.

The states that have shown the highest increase in forest cover are Telangana (3.07%), Andhra Pradesh (2.22%) and Odisha (1.04%).

Five states in the Northeast–Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland have all shown loss in forest cover.

Mangroves have shown an increase of 17 sq km. India’s total mangrove cover is now 4,992sqkm

The survey has found that 35.46 % of the forest cover is prone to forest fires. Out of this, 2.81 %is extremely prone,7.85%is very highly prone and 11.51% is highly prone

The total carbon stock in country’s forests is estimated at 7,204 million tonnes, an increase of 79.4 million tonnes since 2019.

Bamboo forests have grown from 13,882 million culms (stems) in 2019 to 53,336millionculms in2021.

    While ISFR 2021 has shown an increasing trend in forest cover over all, the trend is not uniform across all kinds of forests. Three categories of forests are surveyed–very dense forests (canopy density over 70%), moderately dense forests (40-70%) and open forests (10-40%). Scrubs (canopy density less than 10%) are also surveyed but not categorised as forests. The report has attributed the decline in the Northeastern states to a spate of natural calamities, particularly landslides and heavy rains, in the region as well as to anthropogenic activities such as shifting agriculture, pressure of developmental activities and felling of trees. ISFR 2021 has some new features. It has for the first time assessed forest cover in tiger reserves, tiger corridors and the Gir forest which houses the Asiatic lion. The report estimates that by 2030, 45-64% of forests in India will experience the effects of climate change and rising temperatures, and forests in all states (except Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland) will be highly vulnerable climate hot spots. Ladakh (forestcover0.1-0.2%) is likely to be the most affected. India’s forests are already showing shifting trends of vegetation types, such as Sikkim which has shown a shift in its vegetation pattern for 124 endemic species.

    Experts say the survey results could be misleading as it includes plantations – such as coffee, coconuts or mango and other orchards – under forest cover. These plantations are distinctly different from natural forests where one hectare would be home to hundreds of species of trees, plants and fauna, whereas such plantations house only one species of tree. The forest survey is carried out as an assessment of India’s biodiversity, but such an overarching survey does not meet that objective.