Naturalists and environmentalists are shocked by the State Forest Department’s decision to increase fodder reserves in the forests.

At present the department has created fodder reserves in Coimbatore and The Nilgiris North Forest division totally in about 450ha.

The fodder is raised in the forest areas to reduce man-animal conflict, as the wildlife stray close to human habitation in search of feed and water only. Only with this objective the fodder plots have been raised claim the forest officials.

Members of the Tamil Nadu Green Movement (TNGM) who strongly opposed the idea of fodder reserves, said fodder cultivation had directly affected the habitat management of the forests. They argued that cultivation of grasses inside Moyar valley in The Nilgiris North Division could not supplement the food requirement of large mammals such as elephants and other ungulates. Raising agricultural crops would seriously affect the forest community structure. This could not be sustained for long, they argued.

S. Jayachandran, Joint Secretary of the TNGM said creating artificial farm lands inside the reserved forests would make the elephants to stay for long time in one place, thus affecting their seasonal migration patterns and would escalate human-animal conflicts.

Only a few animals indulge in crop raiding. Once the wildlife got accustomed to foraging the highly palatable grass, more wildlife could move out of the forest areas in search of fodder. This in turn would change their natural foraging pattern. When a land in a forest area is ploughed it would destroy the naturally grown grasses and shrubs. This process would also destroy insects and other smaller life forms found there, he pointed out.

Normal and seasonal migration of animals and habitat utilisation patters of the wildlife would be affected due to installation of electric fences around the cultivated plots. The Forest Department had installed electric fences in the cultivated plots, he said.

The fodder plots were guarded by Anti-Poaching Watchers. The deputed watcher would have to forego the regular duty of perambulating the interior areas to check and control poaching or any other non-forestry activities, the TNGM members said.

In order to get good yield, the department authorities would use chemical fertilizers for the crops. Such a move would have an adverse impact on both the soil and the wildlife feeding on the raised fodder. Native shrubs, herbs, saplings, anthills, nests, reptiles, small mammals and other ground dwelling life forms would be destroyed while clearing the forest land with the help of earthmovers, the members added.