Indiscriminate felling of trees as a result of urbanization, industrialization, mining operations, and use of wood for domestic and other purposes have caused heavy depletion of forests. This is called deforestation. Deforestation results in conversion of forest land to non-forest use.
Causes of Deforestation
- Agriculture: As per UNFCCC, agriculture is the direct cause of deforestation. Subsistence farming, commercial agriculture, shifting cultivation and industrial logging all cause deforestation.
- Developmental Projects like hydroelectric projects, reservoirs etc. require immense deforestation.
- Raw Material requirements
- Overgrazing by cattle
- Other causes like mining, overpopulation and urbanization, floods, forest fires due to climate change etc.
Impacts of Deforestation
- Deforestation is a contributor to global warming, and is often cited as one of the major causes of the enhanced greenhouse effect as it causes carbon stores held in soil to be released.
- Deforestation affects wind flows, water vapor flows and absorption of solar energy thus clearly influencing local and global climate.
- The water cycle is also affected by deforestation. Trees extract groundwater through their roots and release it into the atmosphere. When part of a forest is removed, the trees no longer transpire this water, resulting in a much drier climate.
- Increase in the rate of soil erosion. This can further lead to flooding in rivers and makes the soil susceptible to landslides.
- Removal or destruction of significant areas of forest cover has resulted in a degraded environment with reduced biodiversity.
- Deforestation can destroy genetic variations (such as crop resistance) irretrievably.
- A short-term economic gain made by conversion of forest to agriculture, or overexploitation of wood products, typically leads to a loss of long-term income and long-term biological productivity.
- The protection and conservation of forest resources are not only desirable but are also necessary for the economic development of a nation and the maintenance of environmental and ecological balance from local through regional to global levels. Integrated Conservation Research (ICR), an ecological group of the U.S.A., has launched massive programs of forest conservation in collaboration with UNESCO’s MAN AND BIOSPHERE (MAB) program.
- The first and foremost task to conserve forests is to protect the existing forests from the merciless and reckless cutting of trees by greedy economic men. This task may be achieved through government legislation and by arousing public interest in the importance of the forest resources. The National Forest Policy of India has also laid down certain basic principles for proper management and conservation of the forest resources of the country such as –
- Classification of forests according to functional aspects into protected forests, reserved forests, village forests, etc.
- Expansion in the forest cover by planting trees in order to ameliorate the physical and climatic conditions for the welfare of the people,
- Provision for ensuring progressive increasing supplies of fodder for animals and timber for agricultural implements and firewood to local inhabitants nearer to the forests,
- Opposition to the reckless extension of agricultural land at the cost of forest land,
- Extension of the forested area by the massive plan of tree plantation on a large-scale at war-footing so as to bring 33 percent of the country’s geographical area under forest etc.
- An important measure of effective conservation of natural forest is to adapt the scientific and judicious method of cutting of trees by following a selective approach. Only mature and desired trees should be cut and unwanted trees of low economic value should be avoided.
- To cover more and more wasteland and already deforested land with forests through vigorous planning of afforestation. Forests should not be replaced by commercially important fruit orchards.
- For example, the cultivation of apples in many parts of the Himalayas in general and Himachal Pradesh (India) in particular has done great damage to the original stands of natural forests. Apple cultivation causes deforestation in two ways viz.
- Apple cultivation requires clearance of land from vegetal cover and
- a Huge quantity of wood is required for the packing of apples every year.
The Integrated Conservation Research, a U.S. ecological research group, has suggested elaborate programs for the betterment of forests. These programs include –
- ethnobotany, and
- natural history-oriented tourism.
- Intensive development schemes for afforestation should be adopted. High yielding varieties should be planted in suitable areas.
- The latest techniques of seasoning and preservation are necessary to avoid wastage.
- Proper arrangements to save forests from fires and plant diseases can go a long way to solve several problems.
- A thorough inventory of forest resources is necessary to make an accurate assessment of our forest resources and make plans for their proper use.
- Shifting cultivation should be discouraged and tribals depending on this type of cultivation should be provided with alternative sources of livelihood.
- People associated with forest protection should be properly trained.
- Survey and inventorisation of floral and faunal resources are carried out by Botanical Survey of India (BSI) and Zoological Survey of India (ZSI). The Forest Survey of India assesses the forest cover to develop an accurate database for planning and monitoring purposes.
- Biological Diversity Act 2002 has been enacted and Biological Diversity Rules 2004 have been notified, which aim at the conservation of biological resources of the country and regulation of access to these resources to ensure equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use.
- Industries to obtain “Consent for Establishment” as well as “Consent to Operate” under the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 from the concerned State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) prior to carrying out operations.
- Environmental Impact Assessment of developmental projects and preparation of Environmental Management Plan as per the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment notification of September 2006.
- Adoption of cleaner technologies and the use of improved fuel quality.
- Regular monitoring of industrial units for environmental compliance.
- In acknowledging this factor, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India issued policy guidelines for the involvement of village communities and voluntary agencies in the regeneration of degraded forest lands on June 1, 1990, under the JFM (joint forest management) program. Joint Forest Management is a process in which protection and management of forests are jointly undertaken by the Forest Department and the local communities.
- Sacred groves comprise patches of forests or natural vegetation – from a few trees to forests of several acres – that are usually dedicated to local folk deities or tree spirits (Vanadevatais). These spaces are protected by local communities because of their religious beliefs and traditional rituals that run through several generations.
- The National Mission for a Green India for enhancing quality of forest cover and improving ecosystem services from 4.9 million hectares (MHA) of predominantly forest lands, including 1.5 MHA of moderately dense forest cover, 3 MHA of open forest cover, 0.4 MHA of degraded grasslands.
- Eco-restoration/afforestation to increase forest cover and ecosystem services from 1.8 m ha forest/non-forest lands, including scrublands, shifting cultivation areas, abandoned mining areas, ravine lands, mangroves, and sea-buckthorn areas.
- Enhancing tree cover in 0.2 MHA Urban and Peri-Urban areas (including institutional lands).