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J&K’s forest cover grows, though marginally

Very dense forest shows positive change, reveals union environment ministry report; but green cover vanishing in Srinagar, 5 other districts
Muddasir Ali
Srinagar | Posted : Feb 14 2018 1:29AM | Updated: Feb 13 2018 11:46PM
J&K’s forest cover grows, though marginally
File Photo

J&K’s forest and tree cover has increased marginally by 253 sq kms over the last two years with central Kashmir’s Budgam district recording maximum increase in the green footprint, as per a latest report by union environment ministry.

The increase, based on satellite data and subsequent “ground truthing”, has put the total green cover at 23241 sq km which is 10.46 percent of total 222236 sq kms of state’s geographical area, India State of Forest Report (ISFR)-2017 by Forest Survey of India has revealed. In 2015 the state’s forest cover was reported to be 22988 sq kms.

“It (the increase) is a positive change and what is more heartening is that the area under very dense forest category has grown this time,” said conservator of forests north circle Irfan Rasool Wani.

The last study had shown that in J&K at least 79 sq kms of very dense forest cover had been lost. But this category of forest has grown by 14 sq kms to a total of 3652 sq kms now.

In terms of percentage the overall forest cover has increased from 10.34 in 2015 to 10.46 in 2017 though the overall increase recorded during last survey was 450 sq kms.

The highest growth of 61 sq kms of forest area has been registered in Budgam while Jammu has registered least growth of just one square kilometer. Kupwara is the only district where there has been no change in the forest cover since 2015, as per the report.

Wani said one of the reasons for maximum positive change in Budgam was increase in area under horticulture activity.

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. The FSI’s definition of forest includes orchards, tree like poplar, shrubs which grow outside forest area.

While the very dense forest cover has increased, the moderately dense category has seen a decline, a sign which is described as worrying by experts.

There is another worry for state forest department as well. The summer capital Srinagar is among six districts across J&K which have lost considerable forest cover during last two years.

At least 41 sq kms of forest area has vanished from Srinagar. Having a total geographical area of 2228 square kilometers – the forest cover has gone down to 586 sq kms, a little over 26 percent of total area.

The urbanization, horizontal expansion of the city and upcoming infrastructure projects are seen as major reason that have eaten up the city’s forest cover.

This loss of forest cover in the summer capital is second only to Udhampur which has lost forest cover of 47 sq kms. The southern district of Anantnag (Islamabad) has lost 14 square kilometers of forests from 2005.

In the past, studies have shown that problem of depletion and over-exploitation of forests has taken a toll of state’s forests

“The main reasons for overall decrease in forest cover are shifting cultivation, other biotic pressures, rotational felling, diversion of forest lands for developmental activities, submergence of forest cover, agriculture expansion and natural disasters,” said a senior forest department official.

He however said over the past few years the forest department has taken several measures to retrieve forest land from encroachers.

On February 8, Minister for forests Lal Singh told the Assembly that the department has developed 1233 forest closures in last three years in various parts of the state. Similarly the department has retrieved 156892 kanals of forest land from encroachers of total 403978 kanals of encroached forest land.

Though during past some years there has been a growth in the state’s forest cover it still is less than 33 per cent of J&K’s total area, as prescribed by National Forest Policy 1988.

The FSI report comes after every two years and the 2017 report is 15th such report by the organization whose primary job is to conduct survey and assessment of forest resources across different states.

As per the report 15 states and Union territories have more than 33 percent of their total geographical area under forest cover.