Forestry in India

The State of India’s Forest

By: Staff Reporter
The total forest cover of the country as per the 2005 assessment of State of Forest Report is 677,088 km2 which constitutes 20.6 percent of the geographic area of India.

The biennial State of Forest Report (SFR) 2005 is the 10th Report in a row since the first SFR published in 1987. The Report also records the completion of two decades of systematic and regular forest cover mapping with advancement both in the field of remote sensing and interpretational techniques. Remote sensing technology has emerged as a significant tool for quick assessment of forest resources. Through satellite data, it is possible to accurately measure forest cover broken down to density and land cover classes. Using high resolution satellite data, it is also possible to discern isolated patches of trees and other tree resources outside forests.

Definition of forest cover includes all land which have a tree canopy density of 10 percent and above in a minimum mapped area of one hectare. The mapping does not make any distinction between the origin of tree crops (natural or man-made) or tree species. Also, it does not recognise the type of land ownership or land use and legal status of land under the forest cover. Thus, all species of trees (including bamboos, fruits, coconut, palms, etc,) and all types of lands (forest, private, community or institutional) satisfying the criteria of canopy density of more than 10 percent have been delineated as forest cover while interpreting the satellite data. Degraded forests with tree
canopy density less than 10 percent have been classified as scrubs, which do not form part of the forest cover.

Satellite data of the period October to December is most suitable for forest cover mapping except North East and Andaman and Nicobar, where cloud free data can be procured during January and February. Winter, also presents favourable climatic conditions, for deciduous trees, which largely constitute India’s forests as they bear adequate foliage during this time, which enables capturing of true reflectance from the forests by satellite sensors. The classification scheme of forest cover mapping is given in the table below.

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Forestry in India | Forest Cover Assessment

The total forest cover of the country as per 2005 assessment is 677,088 km2 which constitutes 20.6 percent of the geographic area of India. Of this only 8.05 percent is very dense while 49.12 percent is moderately dense and 42.81 percent is open forest. However, if scrubs are included, the forest cover will increase by 1.17 percent. Further as per a recent study conducted by Forest Survey of  India (FSI), an area of about 1,83,135 km2, above the altitude of 4000m, in Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim and Uttarakhand falls under a  climatic and edaphic conditions that not only limit tree growth but also discourage plantation. If this part of the geographical area of the country is excluded for the purpose of forest cover analysis, the forest cover in terms of percentage to the geographical area adds to 21.81 percent.

State/UT wise forest cover

Madhya Pradesh with 76,013 km2 has the largest area under forest cover followed by Arunachal Pradesh (67,777 km2), Chhattisgarh (55,863 km2), Orissa (48,374 km2) and Maharashtra (47,476 km2). When the proportion of geographical area under forest cover is taken into account, Mizoram scores the highest with a percentage of 88.63, followed by Nagaland (82.75), Arunachal Pradesh (80.93) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (80.36).

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Forestry in India | Change in Forest Cover

Analysing forest cover change from SFR 2003, it has been observed that although some states recorded a loss of the forest cover in the SFR 2005, a few states have also recorded gains, showing a glimmer of hope for future projects. Despite a heavier loss than gain, states showing an increasing forest cover may serve as an example worth emulating.  As per the SFR 2005, parameters used to analyse change includes change from forest to non-forest and vice versa; change within the forest; and between different canopy densities.

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The Loss in Forest Cover

The Report cites that there is an overall loss of 728 km2 of forest cover in the country as compared to the previous assessment of SFR 2003. The States/UTs showing a significant loss in forest cover are Nagaland, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Assam whereas a significant gain in forest cover was seen in Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Tamil Nadu. The Report enumerates several reasons for such phenomenon. Nagaland and Mizoram’s forest cover has been traditionally suffering from shifting cultivation and added to that is the recent occurrence of gregarious flowering and ultimate destruction of muli bamboo (a ten to fifty year cycle), leaving lakhs of hectares barren. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, destruction due to tsunami has caused a considerable dip in the forest cover. In Madhya Pradesh submergence of forest area due to construction of several irrigation and hydro projects have led to a drop, while the forests of Chhattisgarh suffered illegal felling along with similar submergence. Although Gujarat’s forest cover showed a decline with large scale felling and uprooting of Prosopis juliflora or the vilayati keekar from private and revenue lands by local people, it will be a virtual boon for the endemic plant community that is at present being afflicted by species invasion. In Assam illicit felling in insurgency affected areas have affected forest cover.

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On the other hand, gain in the forest cover of Arunachal Pradesh may be alluded to the regrowth in the abandoned shifting cultivation areas and concerted efforts to undertake plantations. Meghalaya too has shown such regrowth in the abandoned area while the forest cover increase in

Tamil Nadu may be due to plantations of miscellaneous tree species in many districts. Use of improved satellite data and better interpretation methodology in the current assessment has also helped in minor improvement over the previous assessment. This has resulted in a reduction in the total forest cover of 2003 by 517 km2 in the revised estimates. Using similar techniques, the net loss in the current report stands at 728 km2, which translates to a mere 0.11 percent of the forest cover of the country.

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Net change in any class of forest cover may be the result of improvement somewhere and degradation elsewhere. A Change Matrix gives a quantitative account of class wise change and also the flux of changes among the classes. There could be many reasons of flux in the Change Matrix such as improvement of moderately dense to very dense forest or degradation of very dense forest to moderately dense forest, open forest, scrub and non-forest. Several combinations can be thus included in the Change Matrix, which enables the understanding of pattern of degradation or improvement in a specified region.

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