Gradually expanding since 2019, India’s total forest and tree cover now stands at 80.9 million hectare, spanning 24.62 per cent of India’s total geographical area.
In an encouraging revelation, the forest and tree cover in the country has increased by 2,261 sq km since the last assessment in 2019, according to the latest edition of India’s State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021. The report was released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in Delhi on January 13. The five states that have registered the highest increase in forest cover are Andhra Pradesh (647 sq. km), Telangana (632 sq. km), Odisha (537 sq. km), Karnataka (155 sq. km) and Jharkhand (110 sq. km). The report states that 17 states/UT’s have above 33 per cent of their geographical area under forest cover.
Mangrove cover also up
The total mangrove cover in the country has also increased by 17 sq km, and now stands at 4,992 sq km. Odisha (8 sq km) followed by Maharashtra (4 sq km) and Karnataka (3 sq km) have recorded a maximum increase in this regard.
The total carbon stock in forests has been estimated to be 7,204 million tonnes, which is an increase of 79.4 million tonnes from 2019.
The mapping exercise
The Forest Survey of India’s forest-cover mapping exercise has categorised forests into three segments -- very dense (where the canopy density is greater than 70 per cent), moderately dense (40-70 per cent) and open (10-40 per cent).
At present, very dense forests occupy 99,779 sq. km of land, moderately dense forests occupy 3,06,890 sq. km of land and open forests occupy 3,07,120 sq. km of land. The report notes an increase in the open forest followed by a very dense forest.
Ecologist Harini Nagendra says all is not well. "What is of most concern here is that moderately dense forest cover has decreased – a lot of the increase in forest cover is in the open forest category. Much of the increase in forest cover in this category, according to the report, is due to plantations and agroforestry – which means there is an insufficient increase in actual ‘forest’ cover or in biodiversity. We need much more forest protection, rather than a diversion for commercial exploitation."
Nagendra is Director of Research Center at the Azim Premji University and leads the University's Center for Climate Change and Sustainability.
According to the ministry, it has used mid-resolution satellite data, followed by the rigorous ground of research and information from other sources. The ministry claims that the accuracy of classification between forest and non-forest classes has been assessed 95.79 per cent against internationally accepted accuracy of classification of more than 85 per cent.
For the first time, FSI has included a new chapter related to the assessment of forest cover in the Tiger Reserves, Corridors and Lion conservation area of India. The total forest cover in 32 tiger reserves is estimated to be at 55,666 sq. km., which is around 7.8% of India’s total forest cover.
Some significant declines
The report notes some significant declines as well. It reveals that the forest cover in hill districts, tribal regions, and the North-east has seen a dip. In hill districts, it has fallen by 902 sq. km.
In tribal districts, total forest cover has also come down. In the North-east, forest cover has declined by 765 sq km. Except Assam and Tripura; all states in the region have witnessed a decrease in their forest cover.
Even Delhi has recorded a loss of 0.44 sq km of forest cover since 2019. Given the pollution levels reaching alarming levels in the Capital, it should have seen an increase in its forest cover. With reduced lung power, Capital's battle against pollution will become severe.