With shrinking canopy, State feels the heat

The meagre increase in green patch is due to “legal felling” and declining cover in urban areas, say environmentalists

February 15, 2018 01:22 am | Updated 07:39 am IST - CHENNAI

According to a survey, 11 districts in Tamil Nadu have witnessed a considerable decline in forest/tree cover in recent times. File photo

According to a survey, 11 districts in Tamil Nadu have witnessed a considerable decline in forest/tree cover in recent times. File photo

Tamil Nadu’s green cover increased by a mere 102 sq.km in the past two years — the lowest rate among the Southern States. Environmentalists have pinned the blame on “legal tree felling” and the declining green cover in urban areas.

According to the India State of Forest Report, 2017, the total forest and tree cover in Tamil Nadu was 30,952 sq.km — 26,281 sq.km being forest cover and 4,671 sq.km being tree cover — accounting for 23.80% of the State’s geographical area and 3.86% of that of the country’s. In 2015, it was 23.72% and 3.88% respectively.

In comparison, Andhra Pradesh’s forest cover grew by 2,141 sq.km, Karnataka’s rose by 1,101 sq.km, Kerala — 1,043 sq.km and Telangana – 565 sq.km.

Within the recorded forest area, the very dense forest cover accounted for 19.26%, moderate dense forest — 48.60% and open forest — 32.14%. When compared to the situation two years ago, the very dense and moderately dense forest areas have grown to a certain extent, while the open forests have shrunk considerably.

The survey also shows that 11 districts in Tamil Nadu have witnessed a considerable decline in forest/tree cover. The Nilgiris saw the maximum fall in forest cover, losing nearly 144 sq.km . Vellore, Krishnagiri, Cuddalore, Thanjavur and Pudukottai are among the other districts that have lost forest cover, but in the range of 20-40 sq.km .

S. Jayachandran, an environmentalist and the joint secretary of the Tamil Nadu Green Movement, says the fall in forest cover in the Nilgiris is due to the grassland restoration being undertaken in the hill station by the Forest department.

“A number of exotic trees such as eucalyptus, wattle and pine were planted long ago for commercial value. The department is cutting down these trees and restoring them as grasslands, as the Nilgiris is a key water catchment area and a source of water for Bhavani, Moyar, Kabini and Chaliyar,” he says.

According to Mr. Jayachandran, there hasn’t been any rampant deforestation or environmental degradation in the region in recent years.

‘No degradation’

K. Kalidasan, president, Osai, a Coimbatore-based environmental organisation, agrees. “There has been no degradation in forests that are under the Forest department’s control. There are other issues like weeds. But the green cover outside forest areas is being lost,” he says.

‘Policy needed’

According to Mr. Kalidasan, the forest cover in areas which are private properties, such as private plantations, is also being lost. But the biggest issue, he says, is the loss of green cover on roads, highways and urban and public areas.

“Roadside trees that are being cut are not being replaced with an equal number of new saplings. When something like road widening happens, a green belt has to be created. There needs to be a policy for this,” Mr. Kalidasan says. Describing this phenomenon as “legal tree felling”, he suggests a masterplan for creating urban forests in cities and towns, which will act as lung spaces.

“Delhi has done this,” he notes.

In ISFR, 2017, the decadal change in water bodies within forests has been studied for the first time.

In Tamil Nadu, an increase of 279 sq.km has been observed in the water body coverage within the forest, when compared to 2005. While there were 453 water bodies in 2005, the figure has increased to 732 by 2015.

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