Salvaging of red sanders an uphill task

A red sanders branch left behind by woodcutters deep inside Seshachalam forests near Tirumala.— Photo: K.Umashankar  

Salvaging of the felled red sanders trees during the last several years in Seshachalam biosphere spread over six lakh hectares is viewed as a Herculean task by the forest officials, though the logs are expected to fetch the government several hundreds of crores of rupees.

Senior officials of the forest department and Red Sanders Anti-Smuggling Task Force (RSASTF) said that though Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu urged the officials concerned to give priority to the ‘salvaging operation,’ the exercise remains shelved for now due to shortage of staff.

The field survey of the forest and task force personnel combing the Seshachalam hills from Talakona waterfalls in Chittoor district to the Lankamala forest in Kadapa district had noticed that thousands of trees were being ravaged by the hired woodcutters. After felling the trees, the woodcutters take away the trunks with lengths ranging from eight to ten feet, but leaving behind the rest of the trees, including its branches and thin logs. Members of the combing parties observe that thousands of such branches lay strewn in the thick jungles.

With the Seshachalam hills still rich with red sanders trees, the smugglers have so far not laid their focus on the branches left behind, but eye the live trees. The woodcutters too get paid by their employers for procuring the core part of the trees, from base to the trunk, even with rough specifications of length, weight and girth.

A senior official said the Chief Minister, during his review meetings, asked the forest department to focus on salvaging the logs left behind. It is believed that these also has much commercial value following incidents of smuggling of red sanders powder and small artifacts.

The logs could amount to several thousand tonnes spread over a vast area, deep inside the forests. However, the officials have not yet taken steps to shift the material to their area godowns, as it involved the labour component. The department is already facing nearly 50 per cent of staff crunch in the field. Considering transportation of the labourers and wages involved, in addition to vehicles, the officials maintain that salvaging mission could be a reality only when a policy comes into force.

Forest fires

The field level officials felt that the presence of deadwood in heaps in the deep forests could emerge as potential contributory factors for forest fires in Seshachalam hills, particularly from February till June every year.