India Status of Forests Report

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Context: The Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently released the India-Status of Forests Report, 2019. 

Prelims: Current events of national and international importance. 
Mains: GS III- Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Forest and Tree Cover in India:

  • Forest cover is the total geographical area declared as forest by the government.
    • It refers to all lands more than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than 10% irrespective of ownership and legal status.
    • Such lands may not necessarily be a recorded forest area.
    • It also includes orchards, bamboo, and palm.
  • Tree cover comprises of tree patches outside the recorded forest area exclusive of forest cover and less than the minimum mappable area (1 ha).
  • As of 2017, the total forest cover in India is 708,273 Sq km2, which is 21.54% of the total geographical area of the country.


Classifications of Forests:

  1. Very Dense– All lands with tree canopy density of 70% (0.7 tree density) and above.
  2. Moderately Dense– All lands with tree canopy density of 40% and more but less than 70% (0.4 to 0.7 tree density).
  3. Open Forest– All lands with tree canopy density of 10% and more but less than 40% (0.1 to 0.4 tree density).
  4. Scrub– All forest lands with poor tree growth mainly of small or stunted trees canopy density less than 10% (Less than 0.1 tree density).

India State of Forest Report 2019:

  • Forests play an extremely important role in ensuring ecological balance and existence of life on the earth.
  • However, rampant cutting of trees and thinning of forests has been taking place in the country due to activities related to development and infrastructure building, emphasise the environmental experts.
  • Thus, in a bid to keep up the pace of conservation of forests amidst developmental activities, the Forest Survey of India (FSI), an organisation under MoEFCC started monitoring forest cover in 1987.
  • Under the same initiative, FSI released its biennial assessment report, India State of Forest Report 2019.
  • 16 assessments have been completed so far. ISFR 2019 is the 16th report in the series.
  • It is a biannual report. The report is prepared after mapping of forests and trees through satellite. 

Major Findings of the Report:

  1. Forest and tree cover:
    • At 712,249 square km, the forest cover constituted 21.67% of the nation’s geographical area or 0.12% more than last year.
    • The tree cover of the country is estimated at 95,027 sq. km, which is 2.89% of the geographical area.
    • Tree and forest cover together made up 25.56% of India's geographical area. In the last assessment (2017), it was 24.39%.
    • The forest and tree cover in India has risen by 5,188 square kilometres in the last two years.
    • There has been an increase of 3,976 sq. km (0.56%) of forest cover and 1,212 sq. km (1.29%) of tree cover, compared to the 2017 report.
    • The top five states in terms of an increase in forest cover are:
      1. Karnataka (1,025 sq km),
      2. Andhra Pradesh (990 sq km),
      3. Kerala (823 sq km),
      4. Jammu & Kashmir (371 sq km) and
      5. Himachal Pradesh (334 sq km). 
  2. Forest cover in hill districts:
    • Forest cover in the hill districts of the country is 2,84,006 sq. km, which is 40.30% of the total geographical area of these districts.
    • The current assessment shows an increase of 544 sq. km (0.19%) in 140 hill districts of the country.
    • It specified that the forest data of Jammu and Kashmir, recorded through satellite imaging, covers areas outside LoC that are under the illegal occupation of Pakistan and China.
    • The report shows that the forest area has also increased in the infertile regions of Rajasthan.
  3. Forest cover in tribal districts:
    • The total forest cover in the tribal districts is 4,22,351 sq km, which is 37.54% of the geographical area of these districts.
    • The current assessment shows a decrease of 741 sq km of forest cover within the Recorded Forest Area/Green Wash in the tribal districts and an increase of 1,922 sq km outside, compared to the previous assessment.
  4. Forest cover in North-east: The north-east did not show positive results as the current assessment showed a decrease of forest cover to the extent of 765 sq. km (0.45%) in the region. 
    • Total forest cover in the North-Eastern region is 1,70,541 sq km, which is 65.05% of its geographical area.
    • Except for Assam and Tripura, all the States in the region show a decrease in forest cover.
    • The States had a much higher proportion of forest than most States- Mizoram (85.4%), Arunachal Pradesh (79.63%) and Nagaland (75%)- and the declines in the forest were still small.
    • The declines in tree cover inside forests are due to tribal populations getting “land titles” (patta) and the rise in trees outside the forest area is due to an increase in tree plantation and afforestation activities.
  5. Mangroves Cover: 
    • The current assessment shows that mangrove cover in the country is 4,975 sq km, which is 0.15% of the country’s total geographical area.
    • Very Dense mangrove comprises 1476 sq km (29.66%) of the mangrove cover,
    • Moderately Dense mangrove is 1479 sq km (29.73%) while Open mangroves constitute an area of 2020 sq km (40.61%).
    • There has been a net increase of 54 sq km in the mangrove cover of the country as compared to 2017 assessment. 
  6. Bamboo Cover: 
    • The total bamboo bearing area of the country is estimated as 1,60,037 sq km.
    • There is an increase of 3,229 sq km in the bamboo bearing area as compared to the estimate of ISFR 2017.
  7. Wetlands: 
    • There are 62,466 wetlands covering 3.83% of the area within the RFA/GW of the country.
    • The total number of wetlands located within the RFA/GW is 8.13%.
    • Amongst the States, Gujarat has the largest area of wetlands within RFA in the country followed by West Bengal
  8. Fuel-wood dependence: 
    • Dependence of fuelwood on forests is highest in the State of Maharashtra, whereas, for fodder, small timber and bamboo, dependence is highest in Madhya Pradesh.
    • It has been assessed that the annual removal of the small timber by the people living in forest fringe villages is nearly 7% of the average annual yield of forests in the country.
  9. Trees Outside Forest: 
    • The tree outside the forest was found to comprise nearly 29.38 million hectares, which was 36.4% of the total tree and forest cover in the country
    • Maharashtra had the largest extent of such trees outside the forest.
  10. Wood and Carbon Stock:
    • In India, the requirement of wood and wood-based products to a large extent is met from Trees Outside Forests.
    • They are also important for their ecological, socio-economic and cultural significance.
    • TOF is also seen as an important carbon sink.
    • The total growing stock of wood in the country is estimated 5,915.76 million cum comprising 4,273.47 million cum inside forest areas and 1,642.29 million cum outside recorded forest areas (TOF).
    • In the present assessment, the total carbon stock in the forest is estimated at 7,124.6 million tonnes.
      • There is an increase of 42.6 million tonnes in the carbon stock of the country as compared to the last assessment of 2017.
      • The annual increase is 21.3 million tonnes, which is 78.1 million tonnes CO2 eq.
    • Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) represents the largest pool of carbon stock in forests, which has been estimated at 4,004 million tonnes.
      • The SOC contributes 56% to the total forest carbon stock of the country.
  11. Forest Fires:
    • Forest fires are one of the major drivers of damage caused to forests in the country.
    • Uncontrolled forest fires can lead to significant losses of forests and ecosystem services.
    • The analysis reveals that 21.40% of the forest cover of the country is high to extremely fire-prone.
      • Nearly 4% of the country’s forest cover is extremely prone to fire,
      • 6% of forest cover is found to be very highly fire-prone,
      • More than 36% of the country’s forest cover has been estimated prone to frequent forest fires.
  12. A decline in MDF:
    • While 1,755 sq. km. of 'moderately dense forest' (MDF) became 'Very dense forest (VDF), 2782 sq. km. of MDF regressed into lower quality 'open forest (OF),' Scrub forest' or 'Non-forest.'
  13. Increase in VDF:
    • VDF, which represents the lushest vegetation and has a canopy density above 70%, increased by 1,120 sq. km. over the assessment of 2017.
  14. Recorded Forest Area:
    • The forest cover within the Recorded Forest Area, or that which has been officially classified by States or the Centre as 'forest,' showed a 330 sq. km. decrease,
      but ‘forest’ outside such a recorded area increased by 4,306 sq. km compared to the last assessment.

Forest Survey of India (FSI), founded in June 1981 and headquartered at Dehradun in Uttarakhand, is a Government of India Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change organization for:

  • conducting forest surveys,
  • studying and researching to periodically monitor the changing situation of land and forest resources and
  • presentation the data for national planning, conservation and sustainable management of environmental protection and
  • the implementation of social forestry projects.

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