The area under forest cover in Karnataka has increased by four square kilometres, according to a latest report of the Forest Survey of India. It says the change has been noticed in the assessment year of 2009, compared to the survey carried out in 2008. The report was put in the public domain recently.

Sources in the State government told The Hindu that the change for the better was being seen for the first time in about a decade. What was noteworthy was that at a time when forests were being “plundered in terms of their flora and fauna and conservationists facing a tough challenge,” the increase, though negligible, marks a refreshing change.”

In 2003, the area under forest cover was very less compared to what was assessed in 2001.

The survey, a long drawn process, is carried out using data provided by a remote-sensing satellite. The National Forest Policy of 1982, the National Forest Conservation Act of 1980 and the Appiko Movement (launched by Panduranga Hegde in the 1980s) have all brought in positive results, though much needs to be done in forest conservation and afforestation activities.

The recent report shows the net gain is mainly recorded in the districts of Bangalore, Belgaum, Dharwad and Kolar districts, whereas Raichur, Shimoga, Uttar Kannada and Gadag districts have observed loss in forest cover by about two square kilometres. Other districts with rich forest cover are parts of Mysore and Bellary apart from Chamarajanagar, Dakshin Kannada, Chikmagalur and Kodagu.

The State has 38,284 square kilometres of forest area, which is 19.96 per cent of its geographical area. As per the 2008 assessment, the forest area was 36,194 square kilometres, which was 18.87 per cent of the geographical area. The forest cover matrix is divided into Very Dense Forest, Moderately Dense Forest, Open Forest, Scrub Forest and Non Forest.

The report says, “The change of forest cover matrix is observed in open forest area and moderately dense forest. There is an increase of six square kilometres in the open forest area, whereas the decrease of two square kilometres is noticed in moderately dense forest.”

Karnataka has 1,91,791 square kilometres of geographical area, which comes to 5.83 per cent of total area of the country. The State is divided into two regions: Malnad, which comprises the Western Ghats and the Maidan area, which constitutes the Deccan Plateau.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force A.K. Varma told The Hindu that the government, with the support extended by the Union government, had undertaken large scale afforestation programmes. Every year, the State was converting large open areas into tree cover and the effect of the afforestation programmes was “quite visible as reported in the recently published FSI report.”

The estimation of growing stock in the recorded forest is done on the basis of forest cover map, forest type map and forest inventory data. As per this estimation, the State has a growing stock of 3,15,156 million cubic metres. Growing stock of trees outside forest is also estimated using trees outside forest inventory data and Karnataka shows that it has got a growing stock of 1,01,733 million cubic metres.

It is said the forest management initiatives in the State have been progressive and they often preceded the national initiatives — in a way the State has been a trendsetter. In the mid-1970s (under the D. Devaraj Urs government), the State took a conscious decision to release forest land for non-forestry purposes with the approval of both the Houses of Legislature. The State also brought in stringent laws for forest protection and removal of encroachment of forest land. Concessions to the forest industries were abolished in the mid-1980s and the State brought in moratorium on green felling in the early 1990s. The result of these general welfare and regulatory initiatives is manifested in increased forest cover.

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