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Forest cover increases, but greens sceptical



Jul 15 2014 : The Times of India (Kochi) 


Latest FSI Report Says Kerala Is Amongst The Few States That Managed To Increase Forest Cover, But Environmentalists Say It Could Be Plantations First the good news. Kerala is one of the few states in the country which has managed to increase its forest cover substantially in the last two years as per the latest India State of Forest Report (ISFR) released last week. 


The report compiled by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) used remote sensing satellite technology using a maximum mapping unit up to one hectare specification. Out of the total geographical area of 38,863 square kilometers in the state, the reserve forest area is 11, 265 square kilometer, which is around 29% of the total area. 


But the state total forest cover, which includes tree canopy outside the forest, open forest, scared groves, plantation and orchards, came to around a high 52%. The ISFR report said that the state had 17,300 sq km of forest cover in 2011, which increased to 17,922 sq km in two years, an increase of 622 sq kms. 


The survey said that nine hill districts in the state added 311 sq km of tree cover. The FSI's definition of `forest cover' is, areas having tree canopy of more than 10% in a one hectare area irrespective of owner ship, be it orchards, bamboo or palms. This has come in for criticism from ecologists. Interestingly, the hill districts have more open and medium forest cover than very dense forest cover, indicating the presence of large rubber plantations and orchards. 


Senior forest officials said that the increase in forest cover is due to consistent afforestation programmes, a fact that has been highlighted by FSI which also said inclusion of tribal forest lands and successful re habilitation of tribals from core forest areas as reasons for increase in for est area. 


But greens said that a de tailed study needs to be done on the claims as this could be due to the increase in rubber cultivation and teak plantation. The state plan ning board data too showed the area in rubber cultivation in the last two years alone increased by 5,435 hectares. 


“While the increase in tree canopy is good news, this claim should be taken with a pinch of salt. The Kerala Forest Development Corporation, The Plantation Corporation Of India, and other PSUs own thousands of acres of leased land and majority of the land is cultivated for wood sold in the open market. This cannot be called afforestation,“ said Harish Vasudevan, Secretary of One Earth One Life said. 


He said that planting teak and eucalyptus trees inside the forest might increase the tree cover but it would do no good to wild animals, who were being forced to come outside the forests in search of food.