Deforestation is when humans clear large area of forest lands for non-forest use. Purpose of clearing forests includes farming, ranching, urban uses, etc. Once trees are cut they are not replanted because the land use has been changed to agricultural and non agricultural uses such as which includes cultivation for tea, coffee, spices, rubber, crops, medicinal plants, housing, industries, buildings, etc. Forests are vast tract of land with natural vegetation growth. They act as 'Lungs of the Earth'. The forest cover of India is around 23% of the total geographical area, ranging from temperate to dry zone.
Biggest concern of deforestation is in tropical rainforest because these are home to nearly 70% of the world’s ecosystem. This includes all living flora, fauna and microorganisms. Rainforests cover 6-7% of earth's surface and are mainly composed of diverse evergreen trees. They receive huge amount of rainfall, which helps growth of flora due to better availability of water. Better water availability increases the survival rate of fauna as well.
Forests are our natural air filters, our water factories, and our medicine store houses, home to tribal people also. They act like carbon sink and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen which is essential for the survival of all living beings. Despite there immense value nearly half of the forests have been already lost due to deforestation.
Cutting of forests on massive scale results in damage to the quality, characteristics and resources of the forest land. 17% of Amazon rainforest has been lost in last 50 years. The loss of vegetation through deforestation is rampant near highly populated areas, roads and rivers. Forests have been destroyed and millions of living beings of the ecosystem have been endangered or have become extinct. It can be due to loss of habitat or non adaptive to new environments.
Forests are cut down for many reasons; they can be intentional or unintentional. Mostly the reasons are economic gains or to meet the demand of wood, food, fuel, oil, and many more.
Main intentional reasons are:-
• Logging- It is done for wood based industries like paper, matchstick, furniture, fuel (firewood & charcoal). Some of these thrive on illegal wood cutting and they get access to the forest core zone. They over exploit the rich natural forest vegetation for short term gains.
• Urbanization- With construction industries, houses, buildings, road network to link cities leading to city expansion also reduce the forest cover.
• Increasing population- It affects forest cover indirectly. With the increase in population the need for more area for more human settlements arises, hence demand for wood, land, food and other resources also rise up.
• For agriculture cultivation- Because of ever-growing demand for food products, fodder, cattle grazing, etc.
• Mining- mining activities contribute to deforestation when mining is done for extraction of natural resources like oil, coal, fuel, etc. Moreover the construction of roads for transportation of extracted material and the waste material that comes out through mining pollutes the environment and affects the nearby species.
Unintentional Reasons are-
On the other hand unintentional factors also play a hand in deforestation. Such as wildfire (forest fire) and overgrazing may leads to less or no growth of plant. Forest fire can be natural or sometimes man made but the results are same. Huge loss of vegetation, animal habitat happens due to extreme warm summers. Sometimes almost all the ecosystem of the place experiencing fire gets destroyed.
Hydropower and deforestation
Other major man made contributors are large hydroelectricity dams mostly built on major rivers. Dams are constructed to generate electricity from the energy of fast running water for human use. There are many issues related to dams that have negative impact on the ecology and local population. Huge no. of trees are cut in mountainous regions to construct dams and for other related infrastructure such as roads, buildings, etc. Hence it decreases vegetation cover; give rise to problem like rehabilitation of animals and humans, landslides and dam induced (river induced) earthquakes in the region. Dams form massive reservoir upstream, that change the surface of earth from one that can absorb water to one that contains water. This cause submergence of number of trees under the reservoir thus reduces forest cover. At the same time deforestation around dams in hilly zone is responsible for the occurrence of frequent landslides. It can be due to heavy rainfall or frequent earthquakes. For instance, landslide in Uttrakhand especially in 2013, 2015, and 2016 turned hazardous to the living, property and environment.
Measures to prevent Deforestation-
Shift from paper to paperless digital technology such as computers. In addition to it the use of recycled items including notebook paper, books, toilet paper, shopping bags. The use of recycled products reduces and replaces the demand for new products and raw material. Another way is to take care of the existing trees to grow up to maturity.
Consequences of deforestation-
Most immediate impact of deforestation occurs at local level with the loss of habitat in ecosystem, floods, desertification, and many more. Removing of trees reduces the canopy of forests which blocks sunlight during day and holds the trapped heat till night. This is useful for the growth of vegetation, microorganisms and plants in forest. This disruption leads to extreme changes which are harmful for the survival of animals and plants in their respected habitat. Loss of habitat forces animals to shift to new locations. Due to this shift in habitat some species of plants and animals are already extinct and some are pushed to extinction. The rainforests of world could completely vanish in a hundred years at current rate of deforestation.
In long run, deforestation also leads to climatic imbalance. Trees play most critical role to absorb greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Fewer the forest cover means large amount of green house gases in the atmosphere leads to increase in warming of earth. It further give rise to problems such as failure or delay in rainfall, floods, droughts, water logging, acid rain, and decrease in air quality. Trees also play critical role in managing the wind, humidity, cloud formation and movement, air quality and precipitation patterns. United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris in 2015 negotiated a global agreement aimed at reducing global green house gases emission thus avoiding the threats of climate change.
Tree Cover and Soil Erosion
With clearance of tree cover the soil is directly exposed to sun, which makes it dry and susceptible for erosion by wind and water. Trees hold the soil to avoid erosion, they also absorb and store large amount of water with the help of their roots. When large numbers of trees are cut it results in changes in the inflow and outflow of water could cause floods in some areas and droughts in other.
Deforestation sometimes leads to desertification of land, in simple words it is transformation of land from fertile to unfit for the growth of trees. It can be due to droughts, inappropriate agriculture practices, weak water cycle. For instance in India the desert of Rajasthan is expanding toward its East and North East, covering the south western parts of Haryana as well as Western parts of Madhya Pradesh.
Unfortunately, under current global and national economic framework trees are worth more cut than standing. The simplest solution to deforestation is to stop cutting the trees. But due to economic patterns more feasible solution could be careful management of forest resources, eliminating clear cutting and the balance between deforestation and reforestation. This should be accompanied with afforestation along the roads, buildings etc.
Under the reforestation and afforestation programs high success rate species of trees to present local conditions are to be implanted. Number of trees cut should be less than the number of trees planted because it takes long time for a seed to grow into a fully fledged tree. Use of coal instead of firewood should be promoted and for economic uses anyone should cut down only old trees instead of small or new trees. Awareness camps and proper knowledge is required to achieve this objective.
Sustainable Development- Afforestation, Reforestation and Chipko Movement-
Some other initiatives are to be followed to check the evil of deforestation and for holistic sustainable development. Such as Agro-forestry- cultivation of trees along with crop planted, compensatory afforetation- plantation of trees on another piece of land when the original land is used for non forest purpose, like industry, building, roads. Permaculture- use of ecology on the bases of forming integrated system of food production, housing and community development. Environmental movements like “Chipko Movement” of 1973 have left lasting impression to preserve national ecology and environment. The movement started in Garhwal region of Himalayas. Local women started a non violent protest to save trees from getting cut. It focused on issues of planting more trees to ensure ecological balance.
Emission Reduction- REDD+, GCF
In order to reduce the emissions due to deforestation United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) made a program named REDD-Reducing Emission form Deforestation and Forest Degradation, and REDD Plus-primarily focused on developing countries for conservation, sustainable management of forests and improve forest carbon stock in developing countries. That is amount of carbon stored in forest ecosystem of the country. Green Climate fund (GIF) formulated to support projects, programs, policies and other activities in developing countries. In addition to this the developed countries should help developing countries both financially and technologically.
Green India Mission-
Centre government of India launched 'Green India Mission' to increase the forest cover and quality of forests in the country. Eighteen villages have been identified under the scheme aiming at improving the quality of five million hectares of degraded forests and bringing another five million hectares of non-forest areas under forest cover through with the participation of gram sabhas, women's self help groups and community organizations. In addition to it the government proposed to bring out a package for ecologically fragile areas of Western and Eastern Ghats which are under great threat. Coal based power projects are great threat to Western Ghats. On the other hand Eastern Ghats face pressures to open up for mining.
“Forest Conservation Act” 1980
To check deforestation Indian parliament passed "Forest Conservation Act" in the year 1980 for conservation of forests all over the India hence put all the forest land under the jurisdictions of forest department. It constitutes an advisory committee to advise the government with regards to any matter connected with conservation of forest. Restrictions on use of forest land for non forest purpose to check further deforestation with a view to achieve ecological balance. Moreover it makes ban on all non forest activities without prior approval of government. On violation, the offender shall be punishable with fine or imprisonment. As per forest department of India; Indian forest land includes any area recorded as forest in government records irrespective of its ownership. Government should also work with private companies, regional communities, and volunteer community organizations, NGO's and other stakeholders to combat illegal activities like illegal logging, mining, urban expansion and to reform trade practices to protect forest area of the country.
Science could also play a pivotal role to better understand the management of forests. Use of new technologies like satellite, GIS, remote sensing, etc will help to design and implement the ideal processes
Therefore, formulation and implementation of better practices will benefit the overall economy, community and the ecosystem. Further, the future of mankind depends upon living in harmony with the nature rather than destroying the same. Optimal utilization of the forest resources and at the same time conserving the already threatened forest cover, reforestation and afforestation holds the key to sustainable development. Forests are renewable sources and are national/global assets and are to be protected and enhanced for well being of humans. Everyone should take moral responsibility to safeguard the resources of mother earth. In the end we must remember that forests can fulfill the needs of human kind. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi has said " World has enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed".