The total forest cover of Himachal Pradesh increased by nearly 25 per cent and by more than 1,000 per cent in Lahaul and Spiti district between 1991 and 2015 due to plantation initiatives, according to an analysis report by the State Centre on Climate Change.
Kinnaur is the only district which has recorded a decline during this period “owing to the construction of hydropower projects and various anthropogenic activities”, it further said.
The report however noted that forest resources are under “tremendous pressure” and there has been a decrease in areas under beneficial species such as ban oak and various broad leaved trees.
Out of a total geographical area of 55,673 square kilometres, the state has a recorded a forest area of 66.52 per cent (37,033 sq km) and a forest cover of 27.72 per cent (15,433.52 sq km), according to the India State of Forest Report (ISFR), a biennial publication of the Forest Survey of India, released last month.
“Introduction of horticultural cash crops and the commercialisation of agriculture have placed greater demands on forests. Rising population pressure and inappropriate policies of the government have further threatened forest sustainability,” said the report titled ‘An analysis of the temporal changes in the forests of Himachal Pradesh’ prepared by Dr Pankaj Sharma, Dr Abhay Mahajan, Kiran Lata, Harish Bharti and Dr S S Randhawa.
It added that rapid urbanisation, establishment of hydropower projects, increase in tourism and expansion of national highways are continuously putting pressure on forest resources, though various schemes such as Compensatory Afforestation Management are helping to cope with the losses.
The analysis relies on biennial assessments of the forest cover during the 24 years between 1991 to 2015 by the FSI, which uses remote sensing satellite data to monitor the forest resources of the country.
It said that the ‘dense forest cover’ in Kinnaur decreased from 565 square kilometres to 344 square kilometres during this period, a decrease of 39 per cent. Hamirpur, Kullu, Shimla and Sirmaur districts also witnessed a declining trend in the dense forest cover. On the other hand, it increased from 0 to 47 square kilometres in Lahaul and Spiti and from 164 to 459 square kilometres in Solan, while other districts also saw an increasing trend.
Except Una and Kangra districts, the state witnessed an increasing trend of ‘open forest cover’, with Lahaul and Spiti registering an increase of 770 per cent. The total area under scrubs in the state has decreased substantially since 1995 from 1,845 square kilometres to around 300 square kilometres, the report said.
It further said that as per FSI’s data, some of the forest area in Una district was found to be highly vulnerable to forest fires while a substantial area of different forest classes in Sirmaur and Solan districts was also found to be moderately vulnerable to fires due to preponderance of Chir Pine forests in those areas.
The report also said that various broad-leaved species of trees, which are used to produce a finer quality of fuel and fodder, are facing a decline in area due to “anthropogenic pressure of the forest fringe communities”.
Recommending protection of the state’s rich natural resources, the report said, “In Himachal, unlimited scope exists for intensification and diversification of the forest cover”.
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