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India’s forest cover increases by 1%, but NE a cause for concern

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NEW DELHI: Total forest cover in India has increased by 6,778 sq km over the last two years – from 7,01,495 sq km in 2015 to 7,08,273 sq km in 2017 – with Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and Telangana reporting maximum increase during the period. The marginal increase has now put the forest cover at 21.54% of the country’s total geographical area.

The India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017, released by the Union environment ministry on Monday, shows that the increase in tree cover during the period has, however, taken the overall tally of total forest and tree cover together to 8,02,088 sq km in 2017 – an increase of 8,021 sq km (1% increase as compared to 2015 assessment). Total forest and tree cover together now stands at 24.39% of the country’s geographical area.

Underlining that the very dense forest (VDF) has increased by 1.36% in 2017 as compared to 2015, the Union environment and forests minister Harsh Vardhan said, “This is very heartening as the VDF absorbs maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere”.

He said the consistent increase in forest cover had been in sync with India’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the country would certainly meet its target of creating additional carbon sink (2.5 to 3.0 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent) through increasing forest and tree cover by 2030.

The 2017 assessment report reveals that 15 states/UT’s have above 33% of the geographical area under forest cover. Out of these states and UTs, seven – Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur – have more than 75% forest cover, while 8 states – Tripura, Goa, Sikkim, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Assam – have forest cover between 33-75%.

The report shows that the forest cover in five north-eastern states – Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Meghalaya – has, however, decreased in 2017 as compared to 2015.

Reacting to the latest assessment report of forest cover, the New Delhi-based think-tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said, “It is heartening to note that there is a net and significant increase of about 0.33% (of total geographical area of India) in the ‘Very Dense Forest’ category of forests. However, a major part of it can be attributed to the increase in the number of districts that have been assessed in the new report compared to previous one of 2015”.

The previous assessment of 2015 covered 589 districts of the country, while the new assessment covers 633 districts. The CSE said, “Moreover, there is no significant increase in the growing stock in Indian forests (only a marginal 54 million cubic metres, of which about 31 m cum is outside forests). A similar picture arises from the assessment of the carbon stock in the forests which has shown only a marginal increase of 38 million tonnes (MTs) over last assessment of 2015 and stands at 7082 MTs now. Therefore, due to assessment area not being constant and not so encouraging figures from other parameters, people should restrain from celebrating the forest cover increase as projected in new FSI report”.

The ISFR 2017 shows that about 40% of the country’s forest cover is present in 9 large contiguous patches of the size of 10, 000 sq km or more. It also shows the total mangrove cover stands at 4,921 sq km and has shown an increase of 181 sq km. All the 12 mangrove states have shown a positive change in the mangrove cover, as compared to the last assessment. Mangrove ecosystem is rich in biodiversity and provides a number of ecological services.

The India State of Forest Report 2017 is the 15th such report in the series. The report for the first time contains information on decadal change in water bodies in forest during 2005-2015, forest fire, production of timber from outside forest, state wise carbon stock in different forest types and density classes.

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The spatial information given in the report is based on interpretation of LISS-III data from Indian Remote Sensing satellite data (Resourcesat-II) with a spatial resolution of 23.5 meters. Satellite data for the entire country was procured from NRSC for the period October, 2015 – February, 2016.

“The satellite data interpretation is followed by rigorous ground truthing. In addition, extensive ground data collected by field parties at more than 18000 points all over the country and information from other collateral sources are also used to improve the accuracy of the interpreted image”, said the ministry after releasing the ISFR 2017.

Report shows that three states – Andhra Pradesh (2141 sq km), followed by Karnataka (1101 sq km) and Kerala (1043 sq km) – have shown the maximum increase in forest cover. On the other hand, forest cover in states like Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Meghalaya has decreased in 2017 as compared to 2015.

“Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover of 77,414 sq km in the country in terms of area, followed by Arunachal Pradesh with 66,964 sq km and Chhattisgarh (55,547 sq km). In terms of percentage of forest cover with respect to the total geographical area, Lakshadweep with (90.33%) has the highest forest cover, followed by Mizoram (86.27%) and Andaman & Nicobar Island (81.73%)”, the minister said while referring to the report.

He said, “Work has already started for preparing the ISFR 2019 and I am confident that the year 2019 would turn out to be a golden year in terms of recording increase in forest cover in the country”.

As far as water bodies are concerned, the report shows that there is net increase of 2,647 sq km in the extent of water bodies over the decade (2005-2015). In general, all states and UTs shown an increase except Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Goa. On the other hand, the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka show an increase of more than 100 sq km of water bodies over the decade.

Updated: February 12, 2018 — 10:47 pm

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