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.
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 .
- 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.
- 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.
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.