Deforestation and its impact on Environment

Vidyanand Garg IAS
Vidyanand Garg IAS

The clearing of forests continues at an alarming rate because land is being made available  for residential , industrial and commercial purpose .Apart from urban sprawl, logging operations  which provide us  wood and paper  products  also   responsible  for felling   very large number of trees every year. Some deforestation is also caused by   natural factors  like wildfires  and subsequent overgrazing  which  may prevent the growth of young trees.

Trees are also dying  globally at a rate never before seen, because of climate change. The trees are struggling to  cope with the extreme weather  and temperature variations associated with global warming .The major carbon sinks around the globe are disappearing , as a result.

Along with deforestation , we have forest degradation also  –a reduction in tree density from human or natural causes.

Impacts of Deforestation and  Forest Degradation:

Deforestation  has many negative effects  on the environment .The most important impact is the loss of habitat  for millions of species. 70% of   Earth’s land animals and plants  live in forests and many of them cannot survive the deforestation. Up to 28,000 species are expected  to become extinct  by the next quarter of the century due to deforestation. Soil erosion , floods , wildlife extinction , increase in global warming  and climate imbalance are few of the effects of deforestation .

Deforestation also drives climate change. Loss of forests contributes between  12% and 17%  of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Trees absorb greenhouse gases. When forests are removed , greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere. This increases speed and severity of global warming .In addition , forest canopy blocks  the sun’s rays during the day and holds in heat at night. Removing trees leads to  more extreme temperature swings  that can be harmful to plants and animals. Further , forest soils quickly dry out  if trees are felled. Many former forest lands   can quickly become barren deserts. Deforestation affects water cycle. Trees absorb ground water and release the same  into the atmosphere during transpiration .When deforestation happens , the climate automatically changes to  a drier one and also affects water table.

Data for India:

Forest cover analysis  by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) using satellite data , defines forest as an area  of more than  1 Hectare and more than  10% tree canopy cover. The combination of remote sensing as well as GIS techniques  with ground surveys  can go a long way  in the management of critical areas.

India is one of the  mega biodiversity nations  and seventh largest in the world  and second largest in Asia  having an area of 328.72 million Hectares (m ha).It has about 17000 species of flowering  plants  and about 5400 endemic species.

In India , between 1951 and 1980 , according to the Forest Survey of India (1987), over 26.20 lakh hectares of forest was converted for agricultural purposes all over India. Forest survey of India has been carrying out mapping of forest cover  on a biennial basis. The current estimate of gross deforestation in India is 0.43% for 2009-2011 , compared to global average of 0.6%.

Data for the world:

Since 1990 , half the  rain forests of the world have been destroyed

1.Forests still cover about  30 percent of the world’s land area .

2.An estimated 18 million  acres of forests , of the size of  country Panama are lost every year , according to the United Nations  Food and Agriculture  Organization(FAO).

3.The world’s  rain forests could completely vanish  in a 100 years  at the current rate of deforestation 4.20% of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon’s forest.

Rate of Deforestation:

FRA(Forest Resources Assessment) says that while in  1990  forests made up  31.6% of the world’s land areas  or some 4128 million hectares , this has changed to  30.6%  in 2015  or some 3999 million hectares. Meanwhile the annual rate of forest loss has slowed down  from 0.18%  in the early 1990s  to 0.08% during the period 2010-2015. 93% of the  world’s forest area is natural forest  while planted area currently  accounts for 7% of the world’s over-all  forest area , having increased by over  110 million hectares  since 1990. Thus ,over the past 25  years , the rate of net global deforestation  has slowed down by  more than 50%.(FAO report dated September7,2015).This is a positive sign and gives hope but more efforts are needed.  Globally , natural forest area is decreasing  and planted forest area  is increasing .While  most forests remain publicly owned , ownership by individuals  and communities  has increased.In all cases , FAO stresses the importance of  sustainable forest  management practices.The management of forests has improved dramatically  over the last 25 years .This includes planning , knowledge sharing , legislation and policies.

FAO has estimated that  total carbon emissions  from forests decreased  by more than  25% , between 2001 and 2015 , mainly due to  a slowdown in global  deforestation rates.

The major driver of forest cover  changes in India are  shifting cultivation  along with encroachment  for agricultural land , mining , quarrying , expansion of settlements , dam construction and illegal logging .

Wildlife Protection Act , 1972 provided protection to  wild animals , birds , plants as well as their  habitats  and envisaged setting up of Protected Areas.The Forest  Conservation Act  aimed at lowering the rate of deforestation  by controlling conversion  of forest land to non-forestry purposes.

What  needs to be done  to stop deforestation and forest degradation ?

1.Promote  sustainable choices :

Purchase recycled items like notebooks, paper , books , toilet paper and shopping bags. As companies use recycled materials as raw materials. This reduces the demand for new materials. Make efforts not to waste.

2.Reforestation: Encourage people to plant trees.In China , every able-bodied citizen between 11 and 60 years  is responsible for planting 3 to 5 trees in a year or  to do equal amount of work in  other areas of forestry.

3.Tree Care:

When cutting down trees ,  single out full-grown trees and spare the younger trees.For every single tree that is felled , make sure that two are planted in its place.

4.Change the politics:

Crack down on corruption .Ensure the strict implementation of forest conservation rules.Illegal felling takes place because of corruption  and also because of unsustainable forest management practices. This in turn can fuel  organized crime and even armed-conflicts.

    Make laws to stop illegal wood  products from entering our markets .Support treaties like  CITES (Conservation of  International Trade  in Endangered Species ) to protect  forests and the endangered  species  that rely on forest habitats.

5The Power of the  Market Place:

Look for Forest Stewardship Council  (FSC) Certification   for wood , wood products .In fact companies  and corporations should hold  their suppliers accountable  for producing commodities like  timber , palm oil , paper  in a way that does not fuel deforestation .For the non-recycled products that they buy , they should ensure that  any virgin  fiber used is certified by a third party such as the  Forest Stewardship Council(FSC). Even corporations like Nestle , McDonalds‘s, Kimberly –Clark have taken steps  to stop  deforestation .

  1. Standing with Indigenous  Peoples:

When Indigenous Peoples’ rights to traditional lands and self-determination   are respected , forests stay standing .Often corporations and governments  overlook or intentionally  trample upon the rights of forest-dwellers.

7.Use alternative energy:

In winters , use coal as  alternative to charcoal and fire wood.This will prevent premature felling of trees. Ending deforestation is our best chance  to conserve wildlife  and defend  the rights of forest communities.

  1. Become an advocate  for forestry and environment:

Use your voice to speak for forest matters .Become an advocate of reforestation .Learn how you can spread the word. Raise funds with which to protect the forest land.When people join together  and demand  forest conservation , companies and governments listen .

9.Support Conservation Organizations;

Donate your time , money or actions to  organizations  that  run programmes focused on preservation of forests and forest habitats. Organizations like  World Wide Fund for nature, Greenpeace,  Conservation International are some such organizations at international level.

10.Eat vegetarian meals as often as possible.

11.Go paperless.

Author: Shri Vidyanand Garg, a Retd IAS officer with 30+ years of experience is presently with CMS Schools (Policy & Operations). He has been working as a civil servant in India since 1980 and has worked in senior administrative positions in the state of UP, India in the fields of housing, infrastructure, forests, information technology, and industrial development.  He has held portfolios like Chairman, UP Forest Corporation , Infrastructure and Industrial Development Commissioner, Chairman- UP Finance Corporation, Principal Secy- IT, Housing Commissioner-UP to name a few.

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