The State’s Forest Department has adopted a unique forest management strategy with a bottom-up approach for sustainable growth in forest cover in the next five years.
In an interaction with The Hindu, Special Chief Secretary to the Government (Environment, Forest, Science and Technology) Neerabh Kumar Prasad has revealed that the department, for the first time, is creating a massive compartment-wise database of forest vegetation density in the State for focused monitoring by officers right from the conservator to the field staff.
Low survival rate
“In the past year, over 20 crore seedlings have been planted in the State close to the target of 24 crore seedlings. But the problem is: there’s no proper information about how many of them have survived and in some cases, location of the planted seedlings is forgotten.
“The survival rate is only 50-60 per cent. All this will change for good with the new strategy the Forest Department is poised to take up,” Mr. Prasad said.
According to him, the forest blocks, so far the smallest units are now being divided into compartments and an exercise to analyse every compartment has been taken up.
“The database of compartments will comprise details like forest density, types of trees, and topography, which makes a way for scientific management. Compartments will become the point of planning and strategy,” he added. Divisional Forest Officers will be periodically analysing the compartments and take up plantation to improve the cover year by year. In all, about a thousand compartments will be created and analysed and the process is underway. Each compartment would be around 400 hectares, depending on topography.
The Forest Survey of India (FSI), analyses the country’s geographical area including forests every two years using satellite and drone imagery. Going a step ahead, the State’s Forest Department will be doing the same every year for better monitoring.
“We have no great source except the FSI report to learn if the forest cover has improved or not once in two years. We will now use the same technology of satellites and drones to study growth every year and budget for it would be drawn from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority Act fund,” Mr. Prasad said. Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has approved the proposals, he added.
Mr. Prasad said there is a staff shortage in the department and the government has agreed to fill vacant posts by issuing a notification in January 2020. Out of about 4,900 sanctioned posts, 2,200 are lying vacant.
A larger green umbrella
The Department plans to increase the dense forest cover from the existing 9.82 per cent of the total State’s area to 15 per cent in five years.
“In a year we aim to increase the cover by one per cent, or 1,640 sq.km. Similarly, outside the forest area, we aim to increase the tree cover up to 10 per cent from 2.3% now under social forestry in the next 10 years. About 21 crore seedlings will be planted every year,” Mr. Prasad said.
Overall the department aims to increase forest cover to 33 per cent of the geographical area in the next 10 years.
As per the 2017 FSI report, the State has a forest cover of 23.13 per cent and 2.3 per cent tree cover outside the forest area.