The Jammu and Kashmir administration has embarked on a project to cut over 20 lakh trees to “reclaim” the shrinking Wular Lake spread across north Kashmir’s Bandipore and Baramulla districts. With the cutting of 2 lakh trees already underway in the first phase, experts advise caution.
The Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA) has started cutting trees on the Ramsar wetland — an area of international importance and once Asia’s largest freshwater lake. The project was started on the basis of a 2007 report by Wetlands International South-Asia, an non-profit organisation that works to sustain and restore wetlands. Experts, however, call for a study on the ecological impact of cutting trees in such large numbers.
“We have to cut around 21.84 lakh trees inside the lake boundary. There are different versions of what the boundary is, but we are going by the 1911 revenue records, which put the boundary at 130 sq m,” said WUCMA coordinator Mudasir Mehmood. “These trees are not part of the natural ecosystem, they were planted over the years. We will cut them in a phased manner so that the willow market doesn’t crash. In the first phase, we have started cutting two lakh trees,” he said.
Freshwater lake shrinking over decades
The largest freshwater lake in Jammu and Kashmir, Wular has considerably shrunk over the past eight decades. Officials records show that 27 sq m of the lake has silted up and turned into a land mass. In the 1980s, the central government proposed to dam the water by constructing Wular barrage. The project, however, was shelved after rise in militancy in the state.
In its 2007 report, Wetlands International had suggested removing all trees from inside the lake boundary. Most trees to be cut, fall in Ningli forest range.
“Ningli plantation, currently occupying 27.30 sq km, needs to be removed for enhancement of water holding capacity. The removal would help enhancement of water level by at least one meter, which is critical to restoration of biodiversity,” the report states.
While WUCMA officials cite a draft study by Kashmir University on the impact assessment of Wular restoration as a green signal for felling trees, experts caution that proper studies should be conducted in this regard.
Professor Zafar Reshi, who led the team that conducted the Kashmir University study, said, “It was not our mandate whether trees should be cut or not. Our mandate was to see what would be its effect on the water body. Our study was a rapid one based on secondary data. We were of the opinion that carbon is sequestered in these trees and if they are cut, it would be added to the atmosphere. Secondly, what do they want to achieve? If they cut trees, do they think water will reach there?”
Another study by Wildlife Trust of India, while recommending the cutting of trees, has called for proper studies to assess the impact. The WTI report says that on an average, 33 kg of carbon dioxide is trapped by each tree annually, making it over 72,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 21.84 lakh trees.
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