TRENDS

Forest Report 2017: What the Increase in India’s Forest Cover Means

Forest report

India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017 is out and there seems to be reason for cheer. At a time when there has been a global trend of decreasing forest cover over the last decade, India has been on the upward curve on forest and tree cover.

There is an increase of 8,021 sq km (about 80.20 million hectares) in the total forest and tree cover of the country, compared to the previous assessment in 2015. The Forest Survey of India (FSI) has been assessing forest cover every two years since 1987. For the last two decades, it has been effectively using rapid advancements in remote-sensing technology.

The survey is based on the interpretation of LISS-III data from Indian Remote Sensing Satellite data (Resourcesat-II) with a spatial resolution of 23.5 metres. Satellite data for the entire country was procured from the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) for the period of October 2015 to February 2016. The satellite data interpretation is backed by extensive ground data collected by field parties at more than 18,000 points across the country.

KEY FINDINGS OF ISFR 2017
  • Very Dense Forest has increased by 1.36% as compared to the last assessment. This is very heartening as VDF absorbs maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • For the first time, the report contains information on the decadal change in water bodies in forests during 2005-15, forest fires, production of timber from outside forests, state-wise carbon stocks in different forest types and density classes.
  • Water bodies inside forest cover have increased by 2,647 sq km during the last decade.
  • Mangrove forests have expanded by 181 sq km. Maharashtra (82 sq km), Andhra Pradesh (37 sq km) and Gujarat (33 sq km) are the top three gainers in terms of mangrove cover. Out of the 12 mangrove states, 7 show an increase in mangrove cover and none shows any negative change.
  • The total growing stock of India’s forest and trees outside forests is estimated at 5,822.377 million cum, of which 4,218.380 million cum is inside forests and 1,603.997 million cum outside.There is an increase of 53.990 million cum of total growing stock, as compared to the previous assessment. Out of this upswing in growing stock, there is an increase of 23.333 million cum inside the forests and 30.657 million cum outside forested area.
WHAT LIES BEHIND THE INCREASE?

Apparently, some of the measures taken by the government seem to be bearing fruit:

  • National policies like Green India Mission, National Agro-Forestry policy (NAP), REDD plus policy, Joint Forest Management (JFM), National Afforestation Programme and funds under Compensatory Afforestation to states.
  • Successful agro-forestry practices, better conservation of forests, improvement of scrub areas to forest areas, increase in mangrove cover, conservation and protection activities, among other things, have all led to an increase in forest and tree cover.
  • This may have been further enhanced by steps like the Green Highways (Plantations & Maintenance) Policy to develop a 1,40,000 km-long treeline with plantation along both sides of national highways.
PERFORMANCE OF STATES

To break up the national data, we have to look at state-wise data. Many states have exhibited a positive trend:

  • Top 5 states where maximum forest cover has increased are Andhra Pradesh (2,141 sq km), Karnataka (1,101 sq km), Kerala (1,043 sq km), Odisha (885 sq km) and Telangana (565 sq km).
  • 15 states/ UTs have above 33% of the geographical area under forest cover. Out of these states and UTs, 7 states/UTs – namely, Mizoram, Lakshadweep, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur — have more than 75% forest cover.
  • 8 other states — Tripura, Goa, Sikkim, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Assam — have a forest cover between 33 and 75%.
  • About 40% of India’s forest cover is present in 9 large contiguous patches of the size of 10, 000 sq km or more.
  • However, there are also examples of a decrease in forest cover due to various reasons, such as shifting cultivation, other biotic pressures, rotational felling, diversion of forest lands for developmental activities, submergence of forest cover, agriculture expansion and natural disasters.
  • But it must be noted that the top 5 states where forest cover has decreased — Mizoram (531 sq km), Nagaland (450 sq km), Arunachal Pradesh (190 sq km), Tripura (164 sq km) and Meghalaya (116 sq km) – all have more than 70% forest cover each.
IMPORTANCE OF ISFR 2017

As in the case of many surveys, the ISFR serves as an important tool to monitor the country’s forest resources and plan suitable scientific and policy interventions for their management. The ISFR also serves as a useful source of information for policymakers, planners, State Forest Departments, line agencies involved in various developmental works, academicians, civil society and others interested in natural resource conservation and management.

INDIA’S GLOBAL ROLE

Moreover, this report and consequent efforts in forest conservation may further strengthen India’s leadership role on global fora meant to address issues like climate change. This, especially at a time when the present administration has been asserting and reiterating India’s position as documented in our earlier article “On Climate Change, India Already Appears to be in a Leadership Position”.

This is precisely because India ranks among the top 10 countries of the world in terms of forest area, despite the fact that none of the other 9 countries has a population density of more than 150 persons per sq km. By comparison, India has a population density of 382 persons per sq km. It holds 24.4% of land area under forest and tree cover, even though it accounts for only 2.4 % of the world’s surface area and sustains the needs of 17% of the human and 18% of the livestock population.