Forest cover rises in India

Bandhirpur forest road

India's tree and forest cover has registered an increase of 1% or 8,021 sq.km in two years since 2015, according to the latest assessment by the government.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, released the Indian State of Report Forest (ISFR) 2017 prepared by Survey of India at Delhi on Monday. The forest and tree cover of 8,02,088 sq km covered 24.39 per cent geographical area of the country and is still short of India's target of 33 per cent as stated in the National Forest Policy, 1988.

According to the report, the total forest cover is 7,08,273 sq km, which is 21.54 per cent of the total geographical area of the country.

"The global trend is decreasing while in India the forest land is increasing". The "very dense" forest cover has increased over the last assessment of 2015, but the "moderately dense" category reported a decline - a sign which environmentalists consider quite worrying. India now ranks 10th in the world for forest area and eighth for annual forest gain. The main reasons for the decrease are shifting cultivation, other biotic pressures, rotational felling, diversion of forest lands for developmental activities, submergence of forest cover, agriculture expansion and natural disasters, the report added.

The mangrove cover of the country has shown improvement as the report shows that it has increased by 181 sq kms with Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat being the top three gainers in terms of mangrove cover.

Very dense forests have expanded to 98,158 sq km in 2017 from 88,633 sq km in 2015. The decline was seen in Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Meghalaya. The maximum forest cover reduction in the north-eastern states is recorded at Mizoram (531 sq km) followed by Nagaland (450 sq km) and Arunachal Pradesh (190 sq km).

Mangrove eco-systems are rich in biodiversity and provide a number of ecological services.

"Forests do not exist in isolation and the benefits of the forests must be transferred to the people", he said, while stressing that issues related to agro-forestry and degraded forests must be paid attention to. Special thematic information on forest cover such as hill, tribal districts, and north eastern region has also been given separately in the report.

A new feature in the latest ISFR report is information about water bodies in forests. It reported that Arunachal Pradesh has maximum carbon stock followed by Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.

India has also shown an increase of 39 million tonnes in its carbon stock taking the total stock to 7083 million tonnes in 2017. The highlights of State of Forest Report - 2017 were only made available on Monday.

The report pointed out that "17,520 sqkm of MDF has shown a decrease in density by changing into OF, Scrub and NF". Satellite data for the entire country was procured from NRSC for the period October, 2015 - February, 2016.

Another interesting finding of the report is that the "net increase in forest cover has been observed in areas less than 1000 metre altitude", while in all other "altitudinal zones small net decrease has been observed".

Forest Survey of India (FSI) has been assessing the forest and tree resources of our country on a biennial basis since 1987.

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