The density of blue pine, an important coniferous tree, has greatly reduced in many parts of Himachal Pradesh, a study by the State Centre on Climate Change has found. The population of other temperate conifers such as deodar, fir and spruce has also reduced in some of the forests, possibly due to encroachment for the purposes of agriculture and horticulture.
Blue pine, or Pinus wallichiana, is widely used in the state for timber and fuel. Its density was studied in 10 different forest divisions of the state in a sample area of about 9,500 hectares. In seven forest divisions, researchers found that the density of blue pine, also called kail, had reduced as per the successive enumeration records maintained by the forest department, according to the study titled ‘Temporal Change in Dominant Tree Species in Temperate Forests of Himachal Pradesh’.
The tree density of the species was found to have decreased in the forest divisions of Shimla, Chopal, Theog, Banjar, Parwati, Karsog and Kinnaur. In Banjar forest division, the density had decreased from 140 to 59 individuals per hectare approximately, and in the Kinnaur forest division, the density decreased from around 19 to a mere 0.04 individuals per hectare, the study said.
On the other hand, blue pine density increased in Chamba, Kullu and Rohru forest divisions. In Chamba, it had increased significantly from around 58 to 189 individuals per hectare.
The authors of the study said that dependence of people on the species for timber and fuelwood could be a possible reason for its decrease. “The other reason behind the decreased population of Abies pindrow (fir/tosh), Cedrus deodara (Himalayan cedar/devdar), Picea smithiana (spruce/rai) and Pinus wallichiana (blue pine/kail) is the moisture regime. The place where these species were present have good moisture regime and fertile soil. Therefore, local stakeholders or people tried to encroach these places for apple orchards and agricultural practices,” said the report.
The study was conducted to get an insight into the current status of vegetation in thirteen forest divisions in the temperate regions of the state, with a sample area of more than 57 thousand hectares. Two-thirds of Himachal’s area falls under recorded forest area, but around half of it remains permanently covered with glaciers or inaccessible cold deserts, and is thus permanently beyond the tree line. The forest cover comprises nearly 28 per cent of the state’s total geographical area.
The state is home to diverse natural ecosystems including 3,296 plant species of the 45,000 found in India. 95 per cent of these species are endemic to the state. “In the Western Himalayas, striking vegetative changes are observed wherein various plant species are migrating to higher altitudes owing to warming trends,” the study observed.
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