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Forest Resources of India

RAS/RTS Prelims and Mains Exam Preparation

Forest- Types and Conservation of Forest and Forest Resources

  • A forest is a complex ecosystem which is predominantly composed of trees, shrubs and is usually a closed canopy.
  • Forests are storehouses of a large variety of life forms such as plants, mammals, birds, insects and reptiles etc.
  • Also the forests have abundant microorganisms and fungi, which do the important work of decomposing dead organic matter thereby enriching the soil.
  • Nearly 4 billion hectares of forest cover the earth’s surface; roughly 30 percent of its total land area. The forest ecosystem has two components- the non-living (abiotic) and the living (biotic) component.
  • Climate, soil type are part of the non-living component and the living component includes plants, animals and other life forms. Plants include the trees, shrubs, climbers, grasses and herbs in the forest.
  • Depending on the physical, geographical, climatic and ecological factors, there are different types of forest like evergreen forest (mainly composed of evergreen tree species i.e. species having leaves all throughout the year) and deciduous forest (mainly composed of deciduous tree species i.e. species having leaf-fall during particular months of the year). Each forest type forms a habitat for a specific community of animals that are adapted to live in it.
  • The term forest implies ‘natural vegetation’ of the area, existing from thousands of years and supporting a variety of biodiversity, forming a complex ecosystem. Plantation is different from natural forest as these planted species are often of same type and doesn’t support a variety of natural biodiversity.
  • Forests provide various natural services and products. Many forest products are used in day-today life. Besides these, forests play important role in maintaining ecological balance & contributes to economy also.

Ecological Role of Forest:

  • Forests provide an environment for many species of plants and animals thus protects and sustains the diversity of nature.
  • Plants provide habitat to different types of organisms. Birds build their nests on the branches of trees, animals and birds live in the hollows, insects and other organisms live in various parts of the plant.
  • Forests act as hydrologic flow modulators
  • Plants provide a protective canopy that lessens the impact of raindrops on the soil, thereby reducing soil erosion. Roots help to hold the soil in place. They provide shade which prevents the soil to become too dry. Thus increases the soil moisture holding capacity.
  • Forests help in maintaining microclimate of the area.
  • Plants clean the air, cool it on hot days, conserve heat at night, and act as excellent sound absorbers. Transpiration from the forests affects the relative humidity and precipitation in a place. Forests clean the environment by muffling noises, buffering strong winds and stopping dust and gases.
  • The layer of leaves that fall around the tree prevents runoff and allows the water to percolate into the soil. Thus helping in ground water recharge.
  • Dead plants decompose to form humus, organic matter that holds the water and provides nutrients to the soil.
  • Forest cover of an area plays an important role in amount of precipitation received by the area. Thus play an important role in maintaining water cycle of the area.
  • Some species of trees have the ability to return nitrogen to the soil through root decomposition or fallen leaves. Such trees are planted to increase the nitrogen content of the soil.
  • Forests absorb suspended particles in air thereby reducing pollution.
  • Forests also helps in the process of soil formation by causing weathering of rock
  • They play vital role in maintaining healthy watershed. Rivers originate in a forest area and carry the organic matter from forest to the downstream thus supporting a variety of fishes and aquatic animals. The richness of forest in upstream decides the biological value of the river ecosystem supported by it.
  • It provides forest food which has great medicinal value and used by local people in respective season.

Forest Types in India:

  • India has a diverse range of forests from the rainforest of Kerala in the south to the alpine pastures of Ladakh in the north, from the deserts of Rajasthan in the west to the evergreen forests in the north-east.
  • 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.
  • Champion & Seth system of classification (1968) provides an elaborate description of forest types of India in six major groups which are further divided into 16 type groups and finally into 200 types including subtypes and variations of forests.
  • The ‘forest type’ may be defined as a unit of vegetation with distinctive physiognomy and structure. As per Champion & Seth, the determining factors of the forest types are climate, soil, vegetation and the past treatment (including biotic interference).
  • The major six groups of Indian Forests subdivided in to 16 type groups are given below:

Moist tropical Forests

  1. Group 1- Wet evergreen
  2. Group 2 – Semi-evergreen
  3. Group 3 – Moist deciduous
  4. Group 4 – Littoral and swamp

Dry tropical Forests

  1. Group 5 – Dry deciduous
  2. Group 6 – Thorn
  3. Group 7 – Dry evergreen

Montane sub tropical Forests

  1. Group 8 – Broad leaved
  2. Group 9 – Pine
  3. Group 10 – Dry evergreen

Montane temperate Forests

  1. Group 11 – Wet
  2. Group 12 – Moist
  3. Group 13 – Dry
  4. Group 14 – Sub alpine forests Alpine Forests
  5. Group 15- Moist
  6. Group 16- Dry

Moist tropical forests:

  1. Wet evergreen
  • Wet evergreen forests are found in the south along the Western Ghats and the Nicobar and Andaman Islands and all along the north-eastern region.
  • It is characterized by tall, straight evergreen trees that have a buttressed trunk or root on three sides like a tripod that helps to keep a tree upright during a storm.
  • These trees often rise to a great height before they open out like a cauliflower.
  • The more common trees that are found here are the jackfruit, betel nut palm, jamun, mango, and hollock.
  • The trees in this forest form a tier pattern: shrubs cover the layer closer to the ground, followed by the short structured trees and then the tall variety. Beautiful fern of various colours and different varieties of orchids grow on the trunks of the trees.
  1. Semi-evergreen
  • Semi-evergreen forests are found in the Western Ghats, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the Eastern Himalayas.
  • Such forests have a mixture of the wet evergreen trees and the moist deciduous trees. The forest is dense and is filled with a large variety of trees of both types.
  1. Moist deciduous
  • Moist deciduous forests are found throughout India except in the western and the north-western regions.
  • The trees have broad trunks, are tall and have branching trunks and roots to hold them firmly to the ground.
  • Some of the taller trees shed their leaves in the dry season. There is a layer of shorter trees and evergreen shrubs in the undergrowth.
  • These forests are dominated by sal and teak, along with mango, bamboo, and rosewood.
  1. Littoral and swamp
  • Littoral and swamp forests are found along the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the delta area of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.
  • It consists mainly of whistling pines, mangrove dates, palms, and bullet wood.
  • They have roots that consist of soft tissue so that the plant can breathe in the water.

Dry tropical forests:

  1. Dry deciduous forest
  • Dry deciduous forests are found throughout the northern part of the country except in the North East. It is also found in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
  • The canopy of the trees does not normally exceed 25 metres. The common trees are the sal, a variety of acacia, and bamboo.
  1. Thorn
  • This type is found in areas with black soil: North, West, Central, and South India.
  • The trees do not grow beyond 10 metres. Spurge, caper, and cactus are typical of this region.
  1. Dry evergreen
  • Dry evergreens are found along the Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka coast.
  • It has mainly hard leaved evergreen trees with fragrant flowers, along with a few deciduous trees.

Montane sub tropical forests:

  1. Broad-leaved forests
  • Broad-leaved forests are found in the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats, along the Silent Valley.
  • There is a marked difference in the form of the vegetation in the two areas. In the Silent Valley, the poonspar, cinnamon, rhododendron, and fragrant grass are predominant.
  • In the Eastern Himalayas, the flora has been badly affected by the shifting cultivation and forest fires.
  • These wet forests consist mainly of evergreen trees with a sprinkling of deciduous here and there.
  • There are oak, alder, chestnut, birch, and cherry trees. There are a large variety of orchids, bamboo and creepers.
  1. Pine
  • Pine forests are found in the steep dry slopes of the Shivalik Hills, Western and Central Himalayas, Khasi, Naga, and Manipur Hills.
  • The trees predominantly found in these areas are the chir, oak, rhododendron, and pine. In the lower regions sal, sandan, amla, and laburnum are found.
  1. Dry evergreen
  • Dry evergreen forests normally have a prolonged hot and dry season and a cold winter.
  • It generally has evergreen trees with shining leaves that have a varnished look. Some of the more common ones are the pomegranate, olive, and oleander.
  • These forests are found in the Shivalik Hills and foothills of the Himalayas up to a height of 1000 metres.

Montane temperate forests:

  1. Wet
  • Wet montane temperate forests occur in the North and the South. In the North, it is found in the region to the east of Nepal into Arunachal Pradesh, at a height of 1800–3000 metres, receiving a minimum rainfall of 2000 mm. In the South, it is found in parts of the Niligiri Hills, the higher reaches of Kerala.
  • The forests in the northern region are denser than in the South. This is because over time the original trees have been replaced by fast-growing varieties such as the eucalyptus. Rhododendrons and a variety of ground flora can be found here.
  • In the North, there are three layers of forests: the higher layer has mainly coniferous, the middle layer has deciduous trees such as the oak and the lowest layer is covered by rhododendron and champa.
  1. Moist
  • This type spreads from the Western Himalayas to the Eastern Himalayas. The trees found in the western section are broad-leaved oak, brown oak, walnut, rhododendron, etc. In the Eastern Himalayas, the rainfall is much heavier and therefore the vegetation is also more lush and dense.
  • There are a large variety of broad-leaved trees, ferns, and bamboo. Coniferous trees are also found here, some of the varieties being different from the ones found in the South.
  1. Dry
  • This type is found mainly in Lahul, Kinnaur, Sikkim, and other parts of the Himalayas.
  • There are predominantly coniferous trees that are not too tall, along with broad-leaved trees such as the oak, maple, and ash.
  • At higher elevation, fir, juniper, deodar, and chilgoza can be found.

Sub alpine forests:

  • Sub alpine forests extend from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh between 2900 to 3500 metres.
  • In the Western Himalayas, the vegetation consists mainly of juniper, rhododendron, willow, and black currant.
  • In the eastern parts, red fir, black juniper, birch, and larch are the common trees.
  • Due to heavy rainfall and high humidity the timberline in this part is higher than that in the West. Rhododendron of many species covers the hills in these parts.

Alpine forests:

  1. Moist
  • Moist alpines are found all along the Himalayas and on the higher hills near the Myanmar border.
  • It has a low scrub, dense evergreen forest, consisting mainly of rhododendron and birch. Mosses and ferns cover the ground in patches. This region receives heavy snowfall.
  1. Dry
  • Dry alpines are found from about 3000 metres to about 4900 metres.
  • Dwarf plants predominate, mainly the black juniper, the drooping juniper, honeysuckle, and willow.

Forest Type-wise Forest Cover in India

Forest Type Group Forest Cover in %

  • Group 1 – Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest –8.75%
  • Group 2 – Tropical Semi-Evergreen Forest –3.35%
  • Group 3 – Tropical Moist Deciduous Forest –33.92%
  • Group 4 – Littoral and Swamp Forest –0.38 %
  • Group 5 – Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest –30.16%
  • Group 6 – Tropical Thorn Forest –5.11%
  • Group 7 – Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest –0.29%
  • Group 8 – Subtropical Broadleaved Hill Forest –0.38%
  • Group 9 – Subtropical Pine Forest –5.99%
  • Group 10 – Subtropical Dry Evergreen Forest –0.36%
  • Group 11 – Montane Wet Temperate Forest –3.45%
  • Group 12 – Himalayan Moist Temperate Forest –3.79%
  • Group 13 – Himalayan Dry Temperate Forest –0.28%
  • Group 14,15,16 – Sub Alpine and Alpine Forest –3.79%
  • Total 100.00

 

The Legislative and Executive efforts for the Conservation of Forests in India

  • The present legislative measures in India for the conservation of forest have its origin in the British colonial India. The Supreme Legislative Council passed the first Indian Forest Act in 1865.
  • This amounted to the formalization of the erosion of both forests and the rights of local people to forest produce.
  • The general law related to forests in British India was contained in the Forest Act 1878 and it’ss amending acts.
  • The Forest Act of 1927 consolidated the pre-existing laws. The territorial jurisdiction was also limited. The legislative framework during the British Raj was heavily oriented towards extraction of forest resources. Forestry was thus production oriented at that time.
  • The Indian Forest Act, 1927 being the product of the British colonial days, reflects the exploitative intentions of colonial feudal society of the time rather than the environmental and ecological interests to preserve the forest.
  • 1927 Act was an industry friendly act and it was responsible for a serious depletion of forest cover in the country. The act drafted with twin object of restricting the use of forest land for a non-forest purposes and preventing the de-reservation of forests that have been reserved under the act of 1927. The Forest Act of 1927 remained in force till 1980.
  • An attempt to slow down the rapid deforestation and depletion of forest cover taking place in the country was made in 1980 with the enactment of the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980.
  • The emphasis was on checking the conversion of forest lands for non-forest purposes.
  • Stringent rules and regulations have been put in the place to govern forest lands for non-forest purposes. Under this act no state government can authorize such conversion without the approval and permission of the central government.
  • The act does not prohibit the conversion of forest lands for non-forest purposes all it requires is that the central government must permit such a conversion and that the action for which the permission is sought must have the approval of the central government.
  • The act was designed to have a sweeping approach towards issues related to forest conservation and similar issues, proof of this can be found in the wording of the statement and objects and reasons of the act, which reads, “an act to provide for the conservation of forest and for matter connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto. The provisions of the act have also been drawn upon similar lines. S
  • ome of the silent features of this act are:
  • Restrictions on the use of forests for non-forest purposes
    • Restrictions n the dereservation of reserve forests,
    • Regulation concerning the diversion of forest lands by way of lease to industries and individuals
  • Restriction on the clear felling of trees and
    • Constitution of an advisory committee to grant an approval for the conduct of any activity for which an approval of the Central Government is required.
  • The Provisions restraining clear felling of trees and restriction of the leasing of forest lands to private individuals and industries were brought in by an amendment in 1988, in order to give more teeth to the forest conservation efforts.
  • The act also speaks about the constitution of an advisory committee to advice the Government in matter concerning the grant of an approval under section 2, or any matter connected with the conservation of forests which may be referred to by the Central Government.
  • The composition of this Committee has to be in accordance with the FCA 2003.

Conclusion

  • Forest conservation is the practice of planting and maintaining forested areas for the benefit and sustainability of future generations.
  • The conservation of forest also stands & aims at a quick shift in the composition of trees species and age distribution.
  • Forest conservation involves the upkeep of the natural resources within a forest that are beneficial to both humans and the environment.
  • Forests are vital for human life because they provide a diverse range of resources: they store carbon &act as carbon sink, produce oxygen which is vital for existence of life on the earth, so they are rightly called as earth lung, help in regulating hydrological cycle, planetary climate, purify water, provide wild life habitat(50% of the earth’s biodiversity occurs in forests), reduce global warming, absorb toxic gases & noise, reduce pollution, conserve soil, mitigate natural hazards such as floods& landslides & so on.
  • But now-a-days, forest cover is depleting rapidly due to many reasons such as an expansion of agriculture, timber plantation, other land uses like pulp and paper plantations, urbanization, construction of roads, industries, constitutes the biggest and severe threat to the forest causing serious environmental damage. Thus, there is need of public awareness.
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