Biannual India State of Forest Report 2019 Released, State of Indian Forest Cover Revealed

Recently, Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change released the biannual India State of Forest Report, 2019. According to the report, India’s current forest cover is 712,249 sq.km. meaning 21.67% of total geographical area (TGA). 

The forest cover in the 2017 assessment was 21.54% of the country’s total geographical area (TGA).  The three states that have reported the largest increases in forest cover are Karnataka (1,025 sq.km.), Andhra Pradesh (990sqkm) and Kerala (823 sq.km.).

“Forest degradation and forest fragmentation remain major challenges,” said Thyagarajan Ganesh, a senior fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore. 

Even though the report assesses the forest cover increase, it presents a gloomy picture of the forests in North Eastern States. The forest cover of six states, excluding Assam and Tripura, has decreased by nearly 18% from 2011 to 2019. The report says Arunachal Pradesh has lost 276 sq.km., Manipur 499 sq. km., Mizoram 180 sq.km., Meghalaya 27 sq.km., Nagaland 3 sq.km. and Sikkim 2 sq.km. of forest cover since 2017. In total, the region lost 987 sq.km. forest since 2017 and nearly 25,012 sq km of forest cover in a decade. It is deduced that the loss of forest cover could be the reason for the rainfall deficit in the North East this monsoon. 

Currently, only 3% of India’s geographical area is home to Very Dense Forests (VDFs). It is a category defined as a canopy cover over 70% and is an important indicator of the quality of a forest. These forests absorb maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and this marginal growth in “VDFs” needs to be considered vis-a vis the progress made in the 2017 forest report, when the forests under this category had increased dramatically by around 14% between 2015 and 2017. In comparison to the 2017 report, the VDFs in 2019 report have seen a mere increase of 1.14%.

Looking at the past figures, India has continued to lose its Moderately Dense Forests (MDFs) since 2011, with again a marginal increase of 0.04% between 2017 and 2019 like that of VDFs. Assessing the previous statistics, after a 0.62% decrease in the area under this category between 2011 and 2013, it further decreased by 1.05% between 2013 and 2015, followed by a decline of 2.2% between 2015 and 2017. 

At the same time, India’s open forests (OFs) increased this decade. Open Forests includes commercial plantations. The area under OFs increased by 0.49% between 2015 and 2017. After a 0.86% increase in area between 2011 and 2013, there was a further increase by 1.60% between 2013 and 2015. Between 2017 and 2019, the forest cover under this category went up by 0.89%, the report said. 

 Speaking of specifics of species categories, under the 2019 assessment of forests, for the first time; biodiversity of plant species in forests was assessed. According to this assessment, State of Karnataka was determined to be the top state measured in terms of richness of tree species with 325 species, followed by Tamil Nadu (252 species), Andhra Pradesh (242 species), Kerala (238 species) and Odisha (192 species).

Arunachal Pradesh aced the category of plant species richness with 737 species, followed by Tamil Nadu (652 species), Karnataka (505 species), Jammu and Kashmir (478 species) and Kerala (477 species), the report said.

The FSI report, which also assessed the forest-dependency of residents of around 170,000 villages near forests, has found that Maharashtra accounts for the highest use of fuelwood, followed by Odisha and Rajasthan. 

The step is a small yet of great value in the direction of achieving the target of bringing 33% of India’s geographical area under forest cover. Even though progress is observed, but the current state needs more commitment and more efforts pooled in from both people and the government, especially for Moderately Dense Forests (MDFs), as increase in OFs is happening at the cost of the MDF category, which is normally the area close to human habitations.

 

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