Deforestation is a very broad term, which consists of cutting of trees including repeated lopping, felling, and removal of forest litter, browsing, grazing, and trampling of seedlings. It can also be defined as the removal or damage of vegetation in a forest to the extent that it no longer supports its natural flora and fauna.
Causes of Deforestation
The most common reason for deforestation is the cutting of wood for fuel, lumber, and paper. Another important cause relates to the clearing of forest land for agriculture, including conversion to cropland and pasture. The main causes of deforestation are:
The expanding agriculture is one of the most important causes of deforestation. As demands for agricultural products rises, more and more land is brought under cultivation, and for that more forests are cleared, grasslands and even marshes, and lands under water are reclaimed. Thus there is much more ecological destruction than gain in terms of crop yield. The forest soils after clearing are unable to support farming for long periods due to exhaustion of nutrients. Once the soils become unfit for cultivation, the area suffers from soil erosion and degradation.
- Shifting cultivation
Shifting cultivation or Jhoom farming is a 12000-year old practice and a step towards the transition from food collection to food production. It is also known as slash and- burn method of farming. Annually about 5 lakh hectares of forest are cleared for this type of farming. This method of cultivation causes extreme deforestation, as, after 2-3 years of tilling, the land is left to the mercy of nature to recover. Even today, shifting cultivation is practiced in the states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Andaman, and the Nicobar Islands.
- Demand for firewood
Firewood has been used as a source of energy for cooking, heating, etc. Almost 44% of the total global wood produced fulfills the fuel requirements of the world. A close look at the pattern of utilization of wood produced will show that the developed countries utilize 16% of their share for fuel requirements. India consumes nearly 135-170 Mt (Million tons) of firewood annually and 10-15 ha of forest cover is being stripped off to meet the minimum fuel needs of urban and rural poor.
- Wood for industry and commercial use
Wood, the versatile forest produce, is used for several industrial purposes, such as making crates, packing cases, furniture, matchboxes, wooden boxes, paper and pulp, plywood, etc. Unrestricted exploitation of timber, as well as other wood products for commercial purposes, is the main cause of forest degradation. For example, the apple industry in the Himalayan region has led to the destruction of fir and other tree species, for making wooden boxes used for transporting apples. Similarly, plywood crates were used for packing particularly tea and other produce.
- Urbanization and developmental projects
Often urbanization and developmental activities lead to deforestation. The process of deforestation begins with the building of infrastructure in the form of roads, railway lines, the building of dams, townships, electric supply, etc. Thermal power plants, mining for coal, metal ores, and minerals are also important causes of deforestation.
- Overgrazing of forests of moderate cover by animals mainly in the tropical and subtropical and arid and semi-arid areas has resulted in large-scale degradation of natural vegetation if not the complete destruction of forests.
- Other causes
Recent developments everywhere in the world have caused large-scale environmental degradation, especially in tropical forest areas. The large amounts of resources –living and nonliving (minerals, river, land) found in these forests have attracted both industry and other developmental agencies, which have severely depleted forest cover. Forest fires whether natural or manmade are effective destroyers of forest covers.
Causes of Tropical Deforestation
Consequences of Deforestation
Deforestation affects both physical and biological components of the environment.
- Soil erosion and flash flood
A shrinking forest cover coupled with overexploitation of groundwater has accelerated erosion along the slopes of the lower Himalayas and Aravali hills, making them prone to landslides. Destruction of the forests has altered rainfall patterns. Lack of forest cover has resulted in water flowing off the ground, washing away the topsoil which is finally deposited as silt in the river beds. Forests check soil-erosion, landslides, and reduce the intensity of flood and drought.
- Climatic change
Forests enhance local precipitation and improve the water holding capacity of the soil, regulate the water cycle, maintain soil fertility by returning the nutrients to the soil through leaf fall and decomposition of litter. Forests check soil-erosion, landslides, and reduce the intensity of floods and droughts. Forests have a profound effect on the climate. Forest absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help in balancing carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere. The forests play a vital role in maintaining the oxygen supply in the air, we breathe. They also play a vital role in the regulation of water (water cycle) in the environment and act as environmental buffers regulating climate and atmospheric humidity.
Heat build-up in the atmosphere is one of the important problems of the century known as the greenhouse effect is partly caused by the result of deforestation. The entire Himalayan ecosystem is threatened and is under severe imbalance as snow –line has thinned and perennial springs have dried up. Annual rainfall has declined by 3 to 4%. Chronic droughts have begun even in areas like Tamilnadu and Himanchal Pradesh where they were not known earlier.
- Loss of wild life
The destruction and alteration of habitats due to deforestation causes an ecological imbalance in the region concerned. The shrinkage of green cover has adverse effects on the stability of the ecosystem.
The protection and conservation of forest resources are not only desirable but are also necessary for the economic development of a nation and the maintenance of environmental and ecological balance from local through regional to global levels. Integrated Conservation Research (ICR), an ecological group of the U.S.A., has launched massive programs of forest conservation in collaboration with UNESCO’s MAN AND BIOSPHERE (MAB) program.
The first and foremost task to conserve forests is to protect the existing forests from the merciless and reckless cutting of trees by greedy economic men. This task may be achieved through government legislation and by arousing public interest in the importance of the forest resources. The National Forest Policy of India has also laid down certain basic principles for proper management and conservation of the forest resources of the country such as –
- Classification of forests according to functional aspects into protected forests, reserved forests, village forests, etc.
- Expansion in the forest cover by planting trees in order to ameliorate the physical and climatic conditions for the welfare of the people,
- Provision for ensuring progressive increasing supplies of fodder for animals and timber for agricultural implements and firewood to local inhabitants nearer to the forests,
- Opposition to the reckless extension of agricultural land at the cost of forest land,
- Extension of the forested area by the massive plan of tree plantation on a large-scale at war-footing so as to bring 33 percent of the country’s geographical area under forest etc.
An important measure of effective conservation of natural forest is to adapt the scientific and judicious method of cutting of trees by following a selective approach. Only mature and desired trees should be cut and unwanted trees of low economic value should be avoided.
To cover more and more wasteland and already deforested land with forests through vigorous planning of afforestation. Forests should not be replaced by commercially important fruit orchards.
For example, the cultivation of apples in many parts of the Himalayas in general and Himachal Pradesh (India) in particular has done great damage to the original stands of natural forests. Apple cultivation causes deforestation in two ways viz.
- Apple cultivation requires clearance of land from vegetal cover and
- a Huge quantity of wood is required for the packing of apples every year.
The Integrated Conservation Research, a U.S. ecological research group, has suggested elaborate programs for the betterment of forests. These programs include –
- ethno botany, and
- natural history-oriented tourism.
- Intensive development schemes for afforestation should be adopted. High yielding varieties should be planted in suitable areas.
- The latest techniques of seasoning and preservation are necessary to avoid wastage.
- Proper arrangements to save forests from fires and plant diseases can go a long way to solve several problems.
- A thorough inventory of forest resources is necessary to make an accurate assessment of our forest resources and make plans for their proper use.
- Shifting cultivation should be discouraged and tribals depending on this type of cultivation should be provided with alternative sources of livelihood.
- People associated with forest protection should be properly trained.
- Survey and inventorisation of floral and faunal resources are carried out by Botanical Survey of India (BSI) and Zoological Survey of India (ZSI). The Forest Survey of India assesses the forest cover to develop an accurate database for planning and monitoring purposes.
- Biological Diversity Act 2002 has been enacted and Biological Diversity Rules 2004 have been notified, which aim at the conservation of biological resources of the country and regulation of access to these resources to ensure equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use.
- Industries to obtain “Consent for Establishment” as well as “Consent to Operate” under the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 from the concerned State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) prior to carrying out operations.
- Environmental Impact Assessment of developmental projects and preparation of Environmental Management Plan as per the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment notification of September 2006.
- Adoption of cleaner technologies and the use of improved fuel quality.
- Regular monitoring of industrial units for environmental compliance.
- In acknowledging this factor, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India issued policy guidelines for the involvement of village communities and voluntary agencies in the regeneration of degraded forest lands on June 1, 1990, under the JFM (joint forest management) program. Joint Forest Management is a process in which protection and management of forests are jointly undertaken by the Forest Department and the local communities.
- Sacred groves comprise patches of forests or natural vegetation – from a few trees to forests of several acres – that are usually dedicated to local folk deities or tree spirits (Vanadevatais). These spaces are protected by local communities because of their religious beliefs and traditional rituals that run through several generations.
- The National Mission for a Green India for enhancing quality of forest cover and improving ecosystem services from 4.9 million hectares (MHA) of predominantly forest lands, including 1.5 MHA of moderately dense forest cover, 3 MHA of open forest cover, 0.4 MHA of degraded grasslands.
- Eco-restoration/afforestation to increase forest cover and ecosystem services from 1.8 m ha forest/non-forest lands, including scrublands, shifting cultivation areas, abandoned mining areas, ravine lands, mangroves, and sea-buckthorn areas.
- Enhancing tree cover in 0.2 MHA Urban and Peri-Urban areas (including institutional lands).