To maintain a healthy environment and obtain a sustainable supply of a number of forest products, natural forests should be carefully managed and conserved. Conservation of forests should involve the following two aspects:
1. Prevention of deforestation.
2. Extension of our forest wealth.
(1) Prevention of Deforestation:
We have, so far, relied upon the natural regeneration capacity of the forests to obtain various products such as fuel-wood, timber, fodder etc. However, at many places and in most of the third world countries we have been extracting materials much more than the average productivity of the system. As a consequence our forests are shrinking and are gradually degenerating into useless waste lands. In order to prevent further degeneration of our forest wealth we should adopt rather strict measures which involve:
1. Controlling unregulated expansion of agriculture and cattle ranching at the expense of our natural forests.
2. Controlling unregulated grazing and destruction of green cover.
3. Controlling unregulated fuel wood collection and timber harvesting.
Most of our flat and fertile land, where there are some means of irrigation - rains, rivers, lakes or ground water resource - have already been brought under cultivation or are in use as pastures. Any further extension of agriculture now shall involve cultivation over marginal land - degraded soils or land in arid, semi-arid and hilly regions of the world which shall require grueling labour and large investments. While the productivity shall be low, this will involve further destruction of our forests.
We can comfortably manage our existing cropland to produce sufficient food grains and edibles to feed the world, even in near future as full production potential of our agriculture has not been tapped so far. We should concentrate on proper management and intensification of existing agriculture rather than expanding it on virgin lands.
In lightly wooded localities uncontrolled grazing causes extensive destruction. Young plants, saplings, are nibled before they have any chance to grow up into a tree. Grazing should be permitted periodically so that young plants could get a chance of growing stronger while herbs, shrubs and grasses could regenerate enough biomass for the catties to graze upon without damaging the system.
Indiscriminate felling of trees for fuel wood and timber harvesting should be completely abandoned while selective harvesting should be done in such a manner that all species should get adequate time to regenerate themselves. In no case extraction of fuel wood and timber should be allowed to exceed the natural regeneration capacity of the system.
This could involve drastic reduction in advantages which local people derive from the forests and without which their life could become miserable. If they are not provided fuel wood from local forests, what shall they do to cook their meals or to keep their homes warm?
If their catties are not allowed to graze on herbs and grasses of the local forest wherefrom they will feed themselves? These are some of the vital issues which have to be resolved for the success of our forest conservation efforts. An alternative has to be provided to the local people if we have to carry on our forest conservation drive.
(2) Extension of Our Forest Wealth:
There is plenty of space around us, large stretches of degraded barren waste land, hill slopes, arid and semi-arid regions on which we can extend our forests. Even amidst our agricultural fields, on outskirts and fences, trees may be planted which shall be of enormous benefit to the people, the environment and agricultural productivity. To be successful, a reforestation drive must involve proper management of soil environment as most of the plantation has to be done on degraded waste land and hill slopes.
To improve soil environment we shall have to reduce soil erosion, provide water and improve soil fertility by adding fertilizers wherever possible. A combination of soil conservation measures and techniques of growing and maintaining plant life are needed to carry out the reforestation drive. Active co-operation of local people in reforestation drive should be sought as without it all our efforts could end in utter failure.
As forests help in maintaining a healthy environment and provide a number of valuable products and benefits, they should also be treated like our agriculture which receives the top priority today. In order to promote better plant growth, our forests should be looked after properly. Wherever necessary adequate, soil conservation measures and proper inputs of water, fertilizers and other chemicals should be used to maintain and augment healthy growth of forests.