The removal of forests on a large scale is known as ‘Deforestation.’ M. S. Swaminathan was right when he said, “If conservation of natural resources goes wrong, nothing will go right.” Forests are the essential natural resource that we all are blessed with. They not only produce innumerable goods but provide many ecological services that are crucial for all living beings. About one-third of the world’s land area is forested, including closed and open forests.
Problem of Deforestation
The deforestation rate is continuously being reported at rising levels, especially in tropical countries. The total forest area around the world has reduced from 7000 million hectares in 1900 to 2300 million in 2000. This drastic drop in the forest cover is a grave issue and a significant threat to living creatures. The even more startling report was published by the UN, which estimated that in the next 60 years, we would lose more than 90 percent of our tropical forests.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, India: The forested area in India seems to have stabilized since 1982 with about 0.04% decline annually between 1982-90. FAO (1983) estimated that about 1.44 mn hectares of land were brought under afforestation, leading to stabilisation. As per FAO estimates, India’s deforestation rate per unit population is the lowest amongst the major tropical countries. However, there’s way more to go to achieve the targeted 33 percent forest area (as per our National Forest Policy) because deforestation is still rising.
- Loss of primary forests has increased by an alarming rate of 25%.
- Tropical forests are decreasing at an increased rate.
- Each day about 32,000 hectares of forest area is disappearing from Earth, and the disturbing fact is the replacement of primary forests by plantations with much less biodiversity.
Major Causes of Deforestation
- Developmental projects like hydroelectric projects, dam construction, mining activities, etc., result in massive destruction of forests.
- Increasing demand for fuelwood and food due to increasing population creates pressure on forest resources.
- Industries producing boxes, furniture, plywood, and paper heavily depend on forests’ raw material requirements.
- The rapid establishment of industries and urban cities is another reason for increased demand.
- Shifting cultivators practice slash and burn agriculture and are responsible for clearing 5 lakh hectares of forests annually. Overgrazing by cattle and forest fires lead to further degradation of forest lands.
- Mining and its associated activities require the removal of vegetation to a great extent, resulting in defacing topography and destruction of landscape in the area.
- The method of timber extraction is such that it involves cutting large timber trees and about a dozen more trees since they are strongly interlocked with each other.
Effects of Deforestation
We all know how important trees and forests play in our lives. Deforestation will have severe consequences threatening the very existence of living creatures in the long run.
- Loss of trees results in an increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which, being a greenhouse gas, enhances global warming.
- Deforestation also leads to desertification in plains and landslides in hilly areas.
- It elevates soil erosion and loss of fertility in the soil, further onsets the agricultural production problem.
- The disturbance in the hydrological cycle due to the reduction in the number of trees influences rainfall patterns.
- There is a loss of biodiversity of plants and animals as the wildlife species lose their natural habitat. Forests are the repositories of invaluable gifts of nature in the form of biodiversity, and by destroying these, we will lose many species even before knowing them.
- The dam-building activities break the ecological balance by large-scale destruction of the region’s forests, and disasters like floods and landslides become common. Example:- A total of 1,44,731 hectares of land is submerged by the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat, out of which 56,547 hectares is the forest land.
Many cases have recorded the ill consequences of deforestation in the past. Be it desertification of hilly regions of Himalayas, disappearing tea gardens in Chhota Nagpur, or the case of waning rainfall in the Udhagamandalam region of Ooty, all had deforestation as the root cause of such problems. The storehouse of species that have evolved over millions of years is lost due to deforestation in a single stroke.
How to Stop Deforestation?
The conservation efforts should be as rapid as the advancement human beings achieve through the exploitation of forest resources to achieve sustainable development in a true sense. Here are few roles that community, government, and the people of the world played and can play to do the same.
Role of Community
- Propagating Environmental Awareness: The community can play an important role in conserving forests by propagating awareness. Because before we all can take up environmental protection, we have to be environmentally educated and aware. It is aptly said, “If you want to act free, first think green.”
- Joint Forest Management: It is an innovative approach in India involving community participation so that rural economy and forest resources are conserved through public involvement.
- Participation in Forest Conservation Events and Movements: People’s participation matters the most, so people should actively participate in Environmental movements. Example:- Sacrifice of 363 Bishnoi men and women who laid down their lives protecting the ‘Khejri’ tree in Rajasthan and the popular ‘Chipko Movement’ of 1973 led by Amrita Devi, who laid her life saying, “If a tree is saved from felling at the cost of one’s head, it should be considered as a cheap bargaining’.
- Concern at the International Level: The establishment of the United Nations Environment Unit and frequent meetings of various nations regarding conversational efforts and awarding of Nobel Prizes to Environmentalists is another example of community participation. Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai gave a beautiful slogan “When we plant new trees, we plant the seeds of peace”.
- Role of Ministry: A full-fledged ministry named the Ministry of Environment, Forests (MoEF) was established in 1986 to look after all the environment related issues and framing guidelines, policies, and legislation for environmental protection. It has introduced the concept of ecomark and eco clubs and monitors the forest cover area in the country.
- Environmental Legislation regarding Forest Protection: The constitution of India includes environmental protection as our fundamental duty. Article 48A states that: “The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard forests and wildlife of the country,” while Article 51A provides: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife.”
- Forest Conservation Act: The Forest Conservation Act, 1980, deals with the conservation of forests and related aspects. It considers any non-forest activity within a forest area as illegal and makes provision for punishment. There were some amendments made in this act in the year 1990, which further strengthened the law.
Other Preventive Measures
- NGOs in the society can play an important role in spreading awareness among the public and building pressure in government to reduce dam building and mining activities in Forest areas.
- People should act more responsible and avoid ruthless cutting of trees. They should rather pay focus on afforestation activities.
- Government should ensure proper implementation of forest conservation laws and regulations.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people”. Deforestation is a problem that the whole Earth is suffering from. Our cultural values have always taught us to respect nature and worship trees. We need to imbibe those values in our character and protect the trees and ‘Mother Earth.’
The younger generation especially needs to be participative and responsible as they’ll have to bear the outcomes of degraded environment if serious actions are not taken soon. The existence of the human race and other animals highly depends on trees/forests. We need to deal with the deforestation problem as soon as possible by planting many trees and preserving our forests if we want our next generations to have a sanguine and safeguarded future.