Making the bureaucracy accountable will help restore forest ecosystems: Dr TV Ramachandra
The choice of the wrong species and the large-scale planting of alien species has impacted people’s livelihoods and worsened human-animal conflict, says TV Ramachandra of the Center for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru in an email interview with DH. Excerpts:
What do you think is missing from the Forest Department’s reforestation programs and planting campaigns?
At the beginning of the 20th century, 80% of the landscape of the districts of the Western Ghats was covered with thick forests. Now the forest cover according to the Forest Survey of India – Karnataka’s forest cover amounts to 20.11 percent over a geographic area of ââ191,791 kmÂ². According to the report, the state has 4,501 km2 of very dense forest, 21,048 km2 of moderately dense forest and 13,026 km2 of open forest. The total forest cover of the state is 38,575 kmÂ². 17 to 20 percent forest cover is contrary to the national forest policy of 33 percent.
Some shortcomings in afforestation strategies are the wrong choice of species and the large-scale planting of exotic species has had an impact on the livelihoods of populations, aggravated human-animal conflicts, perennial rivers. have become intermittent or seasonal rivers, there are more cases of mudslides and landslides (frequent occurrences in Kodagu, Uttara Kannada, Chikmagalur, Shimoga etc.). For example, the conversion of evergreen forests to monoculture teak plantations at Supa taluk deprived wild animals of fodder and water, leading to frequent human-animal conflicts.
For example, the onset of Kyasnoor Forest Disease or Monkey Fever, a zoonotic disease in Shimoga, Uttara Kannada Kyasnoor, has resulted in the deaths of 200-300 people per year. This is mainly due to the conversion of native forests (with diverse vegetation) to monoculture plantations which deprived the fauna of their food – the monkeys were deprived of food and therefore began to infest humans, while the monkeys visited human dwellings, monkey ticks began to affect humans.
Your recent study on forest cover in Uttara Kannada shows a drastic drop to 48% while the forestry department maintains it at over 70% …
Government reports do not reveal the true state of local conditions. Our work is based on detailed terrain and remote sensing data – images of the Earth acquired by space sensors at regular intervals. We followed a well-established protocol of supervised classification of remote sensing data using field data. In addition, the analyzed remote sensing data was validated by accuracy assessments. It is likely that the CAG audit would reveal anomalies in afforestation.
It is unfortunate that forest keepers have failed miserably to protect forest ecosystems. Including all vegetation under the cover of âtree coverâ will only distort the actual condition of the forests.
Forests form vital ecosystems for maintaining water in aquatic ecosystems. The sustenance of water in streams and rivers depends on the integrity of the watershed, as vegetation helps retard water velocity by allowing groundwater retention and recharge through infiltration. As water moves through the earth’s ecosystem, some of it infiltrates, while another fraction returns to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration. Forests with native vegetation act like a sponge by retaining and regulating the transfer of water between the earth and the atmosphere.
The mechanism by which vegetation controls the flow regime depends on various biophysiographic characteristics – type of vegetation, species composition, maturity, density, root density and depth, hydro-climatic conditions, etc. The roots of the vegetation help to bind the soil, improving the structure of the soil by improving the stability of the aggregates which provide habitat for a variety of microfauna and flora, leading to greater porosity of the soil, thus creating the duct of ‘infiltration through the ground.
An undisturbed native forest has a constant hydrologic regime with sustained flows during the lean seasons. Native plant species help recharge groundwater, mitigate flooding and other hydro-ecological processes.
Therefore, this requires safeguarding and maintaining existing native forest patches and restoring existing degraded lands to support the hydrological regime, which responds to biotic (ecological and societal) demands.
A comparative assessment of people’s livelihoods with soil water properties and water availability in the subwatersheds of four major river basins of the Western Ghats reveals that the rivers in the watersheds with> 60 percent vegetation of native species are perennial with higher soil moisture. The higher soil moisture due to the availability of water during all seasons makes it easier to grow cash crops with higher economic returns for farmers, unlike farmers who face a water crisis during the season. lean period. Contrary to this, the rivers are intermittent (6-8 months of water) in watersheds dominated by monoculture plantations and seasonal (4 months, monsoon period) in watersheds with a vegetation cover less than 30 percent. Additionally, the decline in Covid-19 cases in villages with native forests highlights the role of ecosystems in maintaining biota health.
The need to maintain native vegetation in the watershed and its potential to support people’s livelihoods with water availability at local and regional levels is evident from the income of Rs 2,74,658 ha-1 year- 1 (should we explain what it is) (in villages with perennial streams and farmers growing cash crops or three crops per year due to water availability), Rs 1,50 679 ha-1 year-1 (in villages with intermittent streams) and Rs 80,000 ha-1 year-1 (in villages with seasonal streams).
Crop yield is higher in agricultural fields due to efficient pollination with the prevalence of various pollinators near native forests. The study emphasizes the need to maintain the natural flow regime and careful management of the watershed to i) maintain greater wildlife diversity, ii) maintain the health of the water body, and iii) support the livelihoods of populations with higher incomes. Therefore, the premium should be the conservation of forests with native species to maintain water and biotic diversity in water bodies, which are vital for food security. There is still a chance to restore lost natural ecosystems through appropriate conservation and management practices to ensure adequate and clean water for all.
What should be the way forward to restore ecosystems?
Just providing adequate protection would help. For example, in a sacred grove, the fence in 1991 contributed to the improvement, evident in the increase in species (species diversity 7.42 to 9.28), when monitored after two decades, highlights Obviously, the protection of degraded forest patches with fences (or trenches as in Sagar Taluk) would contribute to the rejuvenation of the forests.
Is the universalization of planting programs a problem?
Unscientific approaches with the bureaucracy of the colonial mindset are the main reasons as the agenda is to use allocated funds rather than rejuvenating degraded forest patches. Large-scale fund theft and lack of accountability and transparency have resulted in the pitiful status of the state’s forests. Only annual reports from the forestry department give a rosy picture of afforestation or forest cover that is contrary to soil conditions.
How do you see the implementation of the compensatory afforestation program?
The Management and Planning Authority of the Compensatory Reforestation Fund (CAMPA) was established by the Indian government, with the intention of conserving nature and its natural resources amid various development works. The objective of the Act could only be achieved by using CAMPA funds solely for the purposes of reforestation and wildlife conservation.
CAMPA could be made effective by (i) the involvement of village forest committees in the implementation of afforestation – the maintenance of saplings in popular nurseries, (ii) the geotagging of planted saplings and putting them online. data, (iii) the constitution of a CAMPA monitoring committee to advise on the choice of native species specific to the site, the monitoring of the progress of afforestation efforts, (iv) the use of latest technologies taking advantage of the advancement of geoinformatics – the availability of high-resolution spatial data, (v) annual aerial monitoring of wooded forest plots – via drones and the data available in the data / information portals accessible to the public of the forestry department. Making the bureaucracy accountable with transparency in governance, involving people at decentralized levels will help restore forest ecosystems.