The term ‘Deforestation’ is self-explanatory. The removal/uprooting of forests/trees on a large scale is known as ‘Deforestation.’
Sir M S Swaminathan was right when he said, “ If conservation of natural resources goes wrong, nothing will go right.” Forests are the most important 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, which includes closed as well as open forests.
But the matter we all need to be concerned about is the declining cover of natural forests around the globe. The greatest losses have been reported in the tropical Asian region and Brazil.
Utility of forests and the need for conservation
Forests hold enormous potential for human welfare, wildlife and environment. They are useful for industries as well as for the rural economic growth as they conserve valuable resources and offer huge potential to alleviate poverty by providing various commercial benefits.
Forests provide us a large number of tradable commodities like timber, food items, firewood, pulpwood , gum , oils , medicinal drugs and many more such items. The timber is put to use for cooking purposes while the wood harvest is used in building and paper industries.
Many forest lands are utilised for mining, grazing , agricultural and recreational purposes too. As mentioned before, forests and the trees in it provide valuable ecological services like wildlife protection, generation of oxygen, regulation of water cycle, soil conservation, reduction of global warming and most importantly moderation of pollution.
In today’s era where industrialisation and urbanisation activities are at peak, the forests play a key role in absorbing toxic gases from the atmosphere and keeping the air pure for breathing by living beings. They also help to prevent noise pollution. Trees absorb carbon dioxide ( a greenhouse gas ) present in the atmosphere and help reduce the problem of global warming .
Forests are home to millions of species and also help preventing soil erosion as the roots of the trees keep the soil binded. They act as an influencer on the regional climatic conditions by regulating the hydrological and other nutrient cycles in the environment.
Over Exploitation of Forests
Due to the immensely crucial goods and services that forests provide, they have been exploited by human beings since a long time.
Be it for wood cutting, construction and mining activities or for meeting increased food demands, humans have always looked towards forests for meeting their needs and have received the desired. However, this was at a severe cost of loss of forest areas more rapidly than ever before.
Encroachment of forests led to destruction of about 1.36 million hectares of land ( as per 2002 reports). The tropical forest cover in India is now only reduced to the Coastal Western Ghats and Northeast India ,and that too is suffering degradation.
There’s nothing wrong in tapping and nurturing the potential of forests bur we must realise that there’s a limit to everything beyond which utilisation rather turns into ‘over- exploitation’ .
Hence, the exploitation needs to be in line with the conservation efforts. The conservation efforts should also be as rapid as the advancement human beings achieve through exploitation of forest resources in order to achieve the goal of sustainable development in true sense.
Problem of Deforestation and major causes
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 major threat for living creatures. The even more startling report was published by UN which estimated that in the next 60 years we would lose more than 90 percent of our tropical forests.
According to 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 was brought under afforestation during this period leading to stabilisation.
As per FAO estimates, the deforestation rate per unit population in India is the lowest amongst the major tropical countries. However, there’s a way more to go for achieving the targeted 33 percent forest area (as per our National Forest Policy) because the deforestation is still at rise.
- Loss of primary forests have increased by 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.
- Development projects: Developmental projects like hydroelectric projects, dam construction, mining activities etc. result into massive destruction of forests.
- Fuel and Food needs: Increasing demand for fuel wood and food due to increasing population creates pressure on forest resources.
- Raw material for industries: Industries producing boxes, furniture, plywood and paper heavily depend on forests for their raw material requirements.
- Urbanisation/Industrialisation: Rapid establishment of industries and urban cities is an another reason for increased demand.
- Practice of shifting cultivation and overgrazing by farm animals: Shifting cultivators practice slash and burn agriculture and are responsible for clearing 5 lakh hectares of forests annually. Overgrazing by the cattle and forest fires lead to further degradation of forest lands.
- Mining Activities: Mining and it’s associated activities require removal of vegetation to a great extent which results in defacing of topography and destruction of landscape in the area.
Example:- Large scale deforestation has been reported in Mussorie and Dehradun valley, Goa and Jharkhand.
- Timber Extraction: The method of timber extraction is such that not only it involves cutting of large timber trees but about a dozen more trees too since they are strongly interlocked with each other. Also, the construction of roads that would lead to the area of timber trees causes further damage to the forests.
Effects of Deforestation
We all know how important role trees and forests play in our lives and it is obvious that deforestation will definitely have severe consequences threatening the very existence of living creatures in the long run.
- Loss of trees results into increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which being a greenhouse gas, enhances the problem of global warming.
- Deforestation also leads to desertification in plains and landslides in hilly areas.
- It elevates the problem of soil erosion and loss of fertility in soil which further onsets the problem in agricultural production.
- The disturbance in hydrological cycle due to reduction in number of trees influences rainfall patterns.
- There is loss of biodiversity of plants as well as 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 are going to lose many species even before knowing them.
- The dam building activities break the ecological balance by large scale destruction of forests of the region 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 Udaghamandalam region of Ooty, all had deforestation as the root cause of such problems. The storehouse of species which have evolved over millions of years get lost due to deforestation in a single stroke.
Dealing with the forest crisis
The declining cover of forests is a serious issue we all need to take responsibility for. It’s our planet and it’s completely our responsibility to deal with the problems it faces. And then, when the problem is creation of man himself, who else could be held accountable?
Mahatma Gandhi once said “ What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another”. We are all acquainted with the fact that trees are the most important entity on this planet earth and that all living creatures are directly dependent on them for their survival.
So, whatever wrong we do to the forests is ultimately going to affect us and hence it’s high time we start taking meaningful actions for protection of the trees and the human race. Here are few roles that community ,government and the people of the world played and can play to do the same.
1. Role of Community
- Propagating environmental awareness: The community can play an important role in conservation of forests by propagating awareness regarding it. Because before we all can take up the task of environment 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 is strengthened as well as forest resources are conserved through public involvement.
- Participation in Forest Conservation Events and Movements: It’s people’s participation that matters the most and 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: Establishment of 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”.
2. Government Initiatives
- Role of Ministry: A full fledged ministry named 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 concept of eco marks and eco clubs and also monitors the area of forest cover 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 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 natural environment including forests, lakes ,rivers and wildlife”.
Then there is the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 which 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 year 1990 which further strengthened the law.
3. Other Suggestions
- NGOs in the society can play an important role in spreading awareness among 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.
Theodre Roosevelt once said, “A nation that destroys it’s forests, destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying air and giving fresh strength to our people”. But now, it’s not just about one nation. 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 try our best to protect the trees and ‘Mother Earth’. The younger generation especially needs to be participative and responsible as it’s they who’ll have to bear the outcomes of degraded environment if serious actions are not taken soon.
The existence of human race as well as other animals highly depends on trees/forests and we need to deal with deforestation problem as soon as possible by planting large number of trees and preserving our forests if we want our next generations to have a sanguine and safeguarded future.