These ‘forests’ disturb the balance | News from India

Save the forests, save the tiger. This was one of the driving forces behind Project Tiger, which completed a half-century on April 1.
But ironically, one of the major extensions of forest departments across India — forest development companies (FDCs) — may be causing more damage to the tiger’s ecosystem than preserving it. Some experts have even gone so far as to refer to these companies incorporated under the Companies Act as “forest logging companies”.
One wonders about the initiatives of the FDC, in particular the use of monoculture of a few species, such as teak and eucalyptus, for financial exploitation.
Not only are these strategies detrimental to tiger conservation, but they play no role in climate change.
Maharashtra has leased 3.43 lakh hectares (6%) of the total forest area to Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM).
FDCM commercially extracts about 50,000 cubic feet of lumber annually, causing significant environmental damage, experts believe. In addition, it takes high-quality miscellaneous forests, which serve as food security and habitat for tigers, and clears them for teak plantations.
Wildlife Conservator Prafulla Bhamburkar says: “FDCM’s monoculture plantations are now obsolete. Dense old mixed forests are more important for maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance. “
In 2015, a study in the journal Nature found that 45 percent of government afforestation commitments were all monoculture plantations of fast-growing trees such as acacia and eucalyptus. The researchers believed that, in the long run, such initiatives would harm biodiversity.
Former honorary wildlife watchman Uday Patel says, “The various forests provide the maximum availability of food for wildlife in fruit, leaves and grass and shrub canopy throughout the year. Therefore, it has the highest capacity to contain populations of herbivores and carnivores. This also limits incursions into the crop by wild animals. “
According to Patel, the deadly monoculture plantations act as “green deserts” that have the least capacity to mitigate climate change. “The FDC’s experience in growing trees should be used to increase forests in wastelands,” he says.
Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC) has a slightly different story to tell. KFDC, which opted for pulpwood plantations, had to discontinue it after the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. Ex KFDC extension officials recall how the institution had to diversify its activities. KFDC has embarked on community-based ecotourism and earned income through wood pulp and teak.
Climate change is negatively affecting the productivity of cardamom (which is a very climate sensitive crop), says CA Abdul Basheer, retired division manager of KFDC. “Thoughtfully planned ecotourism, and imparting proper education to the addicted community, is the only way forward,” says Basheer.
For conservationist R Sridhar, it is imperative to consider ecological needs while embarking on conservation projects. “Kerala needs timber. We need to look at things more sustainably. For example, riverine vegetation needs to be promoted near waterways and trees need to be replaced,” Sridhar says.
Despite diversification plans in Telangana, eucalyptus still dominates most plantations.
Out of 33,000 hectares of forest leased to the Telangana State Forest Development Corporation, eucalyptus covers 22,000 hectares, bamboo covers 8,000 hectares, teak covers 200 hectares, and red sand, sandalwood and others cover 600 hectares. Monoculture has depleted soil health in eucalyptus plantations.
TSFDC senior division manager and assistant director (ecotourism) G Sky laboratory says: “We cut the eucalyptus plantation every six years on a rotational basis. We harvest 2 lakh tons of Eucalyptus worth ₹100 crore annually and ₹10 crore of bamboo. To overcome the monoculture problems, we are opting for other plantations such as red sand and sandalwood. “
“We also do ecotourism, including Hyderabad Botanical Gardens, Backwater Resorts and National Parks,” says Skylab.


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