Forest and tree cover in India has increased by nearly 1% since 2015 to 802,088 sq.km or about 24.39% of the country’s total geographical area (GA), shows a report released by the environment ministry. In a worrying trend, however, the report shows that forests in most of the biodiversity-rich north-eastern part of the country have been contracting continuously over the last few years.
As per the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017, released by Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan, India’s total forest cover is 708,273 sq.km (about 21.54% of India’s total GA) and tree cover is 93,815 sq.km (about 2.85% of the total GA). Of the total 8,021 sq. km increase in forest and tree cover, forest cover grew by 6,778 sq.km and tree cover by 1,243 sq.km. The increase in total forest cover also includes an increase of 181 sq.km in mangrove cover, taking the total mangrove area in the country to 4,921 sq.km.
The ISFR report is published every two years by the environment ministry. The India State of Forest Report 2017 is the 15th such report in the series. The 2017 report is more comprehensive than the previous one as it is based on information from 633 districts compared with 589 covered in the 2015 report.
Categorization of forest cover:
Taking into account the density (canopy covering branches and foliage formed by the crowns of trees), forest cover is divided into ‘very dense’, ‘moderately dense’ and ‘open’ forest.
1. Very dense Forest: All Lands with tree cover (Including mangrove cover) of canopy density of 70% and above
2. Mod Dense forest: All lands with tree cover (Including mangrove cover) of canopy density between 40% and 70% above
3. Open forest: All lands with tree cover (Including mangrove cover) of canopy density between 10% and 40%
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.
- The forest survey for the first time mapped 633 districts and relied on satellite-mapping.
- Dense forest, moderately dense forest and open forest is 98,158 sq. km (2.98% of GA), 308,318 sq. km (9.38% of GA) and 301,797 sq. km (9.18% of GA) respectively.
India targets having 33% of its GA under forest cover. According to the report, at present 15 states and Union territories have more than 33% of their GA under forest cover.
- Forest cover in hill districts grew by 754 sq.km, while tribal districts saw an increase of 86.89 sq.km in just the last two years, according to ISFR 2017. But, worryingly, forest cover in the northeastern region showed a decline of 630 sq.km.
- 21,054 sq. km of non-forest area became forest area during the last two years, hinting that this may have been due to an increase in activities like plantation.
- The latest ISFR report includes information about water bodies in forests, a new feature. The report revealed that there has been an increase of 2,647 sq.km in the extent of water bodies in forest areas over the decade 2005-2015.
States having highest forest cover:
Among the states, Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover (77, 414 sq. km), followed by Arunachal Pradesh (66,964 sq. km), Chhattisgarh (55,547 sq. km) Odisha (51, 345 sq. km) and Maharashtra (50,682 sq. km).
Top 5 states where forest cover grew:
The top five states where forest cover grew are Andhra Pradesh (by 2,141 sq.km), Karnataka (1,101 sq.km), Kerala (1,043 sq.km), Odisha (885 sq.km) and Telangana (565 sq.km)
Top 5 states where forest cover declined:
The top five states where forest cover declined are Mizoram (by 531 sq.km), Nagaland (450 sq.km), Arunachal Pradesh (190 sq.km), Tripura (164 sq.km) and Meghalaya (116 sq.km). This points to a worrying trend as the five states where the forest cover contracted the most are in the biodiversity rich northeastern region and had witnessed a decrease in 2015 too from 2013, according to the previous report.
The information given in the report will serve as an important tool to monitor the country’s forest resources and plan suitable scientific and policy interventions for its management. It will also serve as a useful source of information for the policy makers, planners, State Forest Departments, line agencies involved in various developmental works, academicians, civil society and others interested in natural resource conservation and management.
India ranks among the top 10 countries of the world in terms of forest area, despite the fact that none of the other nine countries has a population density of more than 150 persons per sq.km, compared with India’s 382 persons per sq.km. As per the latest FAO report, India is 8th in the list of top 10 nations reporting the greatest annual net gain in forest area. India announced a voluntary target in 2015 of creating additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide) equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.