State prepares plan to eliminate “aliens” from rain forests

For the first time ever, the State is preparing a comprehensive plan for the removal of invasive species after realising the danger they pose to the tropical rainforests and open grasslands in the Western Ghats.

Waking up to the threat at last, the government has constituted a six-member committee of experts to study the wattle and eucalyptus menace in the shola rainforests and grasslands and suggest methods to eliminate the invasive species.

The committee will have Basavaraju, Chief Conservator of Forests (Research), as its chairman. The Conservators of Forests in Coimbatore and Dindigul will be member co-ordinators in respect of the Nilgiris and Kodaikanal hills.

The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (in charge) Vinod Kumar, on an interim order of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on February 27.

Action-taken report

Passing orders on a public interest litigation petition filed M. Saravanan for removal of wattle and eucalyptus trees, the court directed the Forest Department to ensure that the tropical forests of the Western Ghats were restored to their original state. As per the order, the committee would take action and issue directives from time to time to the (other) members — the DFOs of the Nilgiris North and South Divisions and the Kodaikanal Division — and send an action-taken report every two months.

A separate, comprehensive study will also be commissioned for restoration of the rainforests in these two divisions. “The study area will cover 6,500 hectares of shola forests and open grasslands in the Nilgiris and Kodaikanal hills,” says a Forest Department official.

The committee will also examine methodologies for removal of wattle/eucalyptus through a two or three working plan/management plan period and suggest short- and long-term strategies rooted in a scientific ecological principle.

“It is not just wattle and eucalyptus. There are about 10 invasive species, including Lantana Camara, Scotch Broom and Opuntia, posing a major threat to the Nilgiris bio-sphere,” says a forest officer posted there.

The Forest Department periodically removes exotic species, but on a smaller scale, under the Hill Area Development Programme (HADP). At present, Lantana Camara was being removed from 250 acres in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Opuntia from the Nilgiris North Division and Wattle from the Nilgiris South Division with HADP funds, Forest Department officials say.

“The Forest Department gets revenue from the sale of wattle, eucalyptus and pines being periodically removed. The funds can be spent on replanting and maintenance of rainforest species,” says a forest officer. But the department lacks a proper plan or procedures at present, he adds.

A study by V.S. Ramachandran of Bharathiar University revealed that 223 species of flowering plants, belonging to 56 families, were naturalised under different types because of the invasive species in the Nilgiris bio-sphere alone. While the growth of grass in shola and open grasslands was 40 to 45 cm in native, it was only 15 cm in eucalyptus forest, the report pointed out.

Meanwhile, the expert committee will prepare a preliminary report this month to be filed as a counter in the court and appraise it of the progress made. “The removal of the invasive species on a large scale will be taken up in June/July,” says an official.

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