(By Kushal Jeena)India has become one among few countries in the world where forest cover rises constantly and it has happened despite repeated incidents of fire in forests in various parts of the country. According to a current assessment this time national forest cover has registered an increase of 5,188 square meters, which is quite an achievement in itself.
The latest report titled “India State of Forest Report 2019” that the ministry of environment, forest and climate change released recently says as compared to the assessment of 2017, there is an increase of 5,188 sq. km in the total forest and tree cover of the country. Out of this, the increase in forest cover has been observed as 3,976 sq km and that in tree cover is 1,212 sq. km; Range increase in forest cover has been observed in open forest followed by very dense forest and moderately dense forest and the top three states showing increase in forest cover are Karnataka (1,025 sq. km) followed by Andhra Pradesh (990 sq km) and Kerala (823 sq km). The report however expressed concern over decrease registered in forest cover of north east region and found out that total forest cover in the region is 1,70,541 sq km. which is 65.05 percent of its geographical area. The report is published by the Forest Survey of India and so far 16 assessments have been completed since 1987. The Forest Survey of India undertakes assessment of country’s forest resources every two years. The findings of the report revealed that the country’s forest cover includes all patches of land with a tree canopy density of more than 10 percent and more than 1 ha in area, irrespective of land use, ownership and species of trees. Results of the exercise is a nation-wide forest cover map of the country on 1:50,000 scale in three canopy density classes viz Very Dense Forest with a canopy density more than 70 percent, Moderately Dense Forest with a canopy density between 40-70 percent and Open Forest with a canopy density between 10- 40 percent.
The tree cover is assessed following a methodology involving remote sensing based stratification and observations on sample plots lay in the strata as part of the National Forest Inventory. In the current assessment, ortho-rectified LISS III data of IRS Resourcesat-2 with a spatial resolution of 23.5 meters for the period October to December 2017 have been used for interpretation at a scale of interpretation 1:50,000 with the Minimum Mappable Unit of 1 ha. A new nation-wide study has been undertaken to assess the dependence of the people living in Forest Fringe Villages for fuel wood, fodder, small timber and bamboo on the forests. The results of the study will not only help in evaluating the impacts of programmes and policies but will also help in understanding the gap between the potential productivity and actual increment observed in the forests of the country. The report in its assessments conducted in 31 states and union territories arrived at a conclusion that nearly 8,5290,000 tones of fuel wood, 105,30,39,000 tonnes of fodder, 584,8204 cubic metre of small timber and 18,34,000 tones of bamboo were collected by villagers across the country. Maharashtra was among the states where maximum fuel wood was removed-95,39,000 tones- followed by Odisha and Rajasthan. The key findings of the report said the total forest cover of the country is 7,12,249 sq km which is 21.67 percent of the geographical area of the country. The tree cover of the country is estimated as 95,027 sq km which is 2.89 percent of the geographical area. Total Forest and Tree cover of country is 8,07,276 sq km which is 24.56 percent of the geographical area of the country. The current assessment shows a decrease of 741 sq km of forest cover within Recorded Forest Area in the tribal districts.