Forests are ecological as well as a socio-economic resource. Forests have to be managed judiciously not only because they are source of various products and industrial raw materials but also for environmental protection and various services they provide.
Approximately 1/3rd of the earth’s total land area is covered by forests. The forests provide habitat for wildlife, resources such as timber, fire wood, drugs etc. and aesthetic environment. Indirectly, the forests benefit people by protecting watersheds from soil erosion, keeping rivers and reservoirs free of silt, and facilitate the recharging of groundwater. Forest plays an important role in the cycling of carbon, water, nitrogen and other elements.
What is forest?
Forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of trees that support a myriad forms of life. The trees are the most important component that help to create a unique environment which, in turn, supports various kinds of animals and plants.
Trees are the prime producers for the forest, purify and cool the air and control the climate. Forests may be subdivided into natural forests and plantations or man made forests. Natural forests are forests composed of mainly naturally grown indigenous (local) trees while plantations are forests established by growing trees by humans.
Climate, soil type, topography, and elevation are the main factors that determine the type of forest. Forests are classified according to their nature and composition, the type of climate in which they thrive, and its relationship with the surrounding environment.
India has a many types of forests: They range from rain forest of Kerala and North-East to deciduous forests in the plains, mountain forests to alpine pastures of Ladakh and deserts of Rajasthan.
Importance of Forests
Early life of humans on this planet began as forest dweller. In early days human were totally dependent on forest for food, clothing, and shelter. Even after agriculture was started humans remained dependent upon the forests for several of their needs. The source of fuel wood and provide raw materials to various wood industries. Indian forests also provide many other valuable minor products such as essential oil, medicinal plants, resins, turpentine etc. Forests are renewable resources which provide a wide variety of commodities. Forests satisfying aesthetic needs of humans and have been a source of inspiration for the development of culture and civilization. Forests are home to a very large variety of plants, animals and micro-organisms. This great richness of flora and fauna which has evolved over the years is an important part of nature. Forests provide habitat and food as well as protection to wildlife species against extremes of climate.
Forests have great biological importance as reservoirs of genetic diversity apart from playing an important role in regulating earth’s climate.
Deforestation is a very broad term, which consists of cutting of trees including repeated lopping, felling, and removal of forest litter, browsing, grazing and trampling of seedlings. It can also be defined as the removal or damage of vegetation in a forest to the extent that it no longer supports its natural flora and fauna.
The rapid rate of deforestation in the tropics is a key driving force in the yearly increase of flood disasters.
Deforestation refers to the loss of tree cover; land that is permanently converted from forest to non-forest uses such as agricultural pasture, desert, and human settlement.
In the beginning of 20th century about 7.0 billion hectares of forests were present over the land of our planet and by 1950 forest covers was reduced to about 4.8 billon. If the present trend continues forests will be reduced to only 2.35 billion ha hectares in 2000A.D.
In a FAQ/UNEP study it was found that about 7.3 million hectares of rich tropical forests every year and about 14 hectare of closed forest every minute are lost.
Extent of forest loss in India
India is an agricultural country. The country is losing its forest cover steadily because of clearing forests of is done for agricultural purpose, cattle grazing and plantation crops such as tea, coffee etc.
Deforestation is one of the most serious and widespread environmental problems which India is facing. In India surveys conducted in early seventies and found a forest cover of about 22.7%only instead of 33% considered desirable according to “National. Forest Policy”.