As a result, deforestation, further erosion of soil takes place, water availability becomes low, rains become erratic, floods become a common phenomenon, and soil nutrients are lost. All this leads to decrease in agricultural production.
Similarly, when cities grow, they generally do so at the cost of agricultural land or forestland. Also, industries, highways, dams, etc. occupy large areas of agricultural land or forest land. Clearance of forest areas has also caused threat to wildlife.
Forests not only provide food and water shelter for different kinds of wild animals, birds, insects, micro-organisms but they also pay an important role in maintaining stability of climate and bringing rains, etc.. In addition, various species of plants and animals which come under wildlife contain innumerable genes which have already proved their usefulness or likely to prove their usefulness.
Our country has already paid a heavy price for lack of proper management of these resources. Many species of wildlife might have become extinct due to the loss of forest cover. It was, therefore, decided in the Seventh Five Year Plan that highest priority should be given to restore forest cover. Aim should be to bring 33 percent of the land area of the country under healthy forest cover.
i) Forest harvest and Management
Until very recently, our capacity to interfere with natural ecosystem was quite limited. Natural regeneration could take care of these interferences. Recent scientific and technological developments have given human beings the capability to make changes on a very large scale; for example, in the 19th century, cutting of a big tree needed several man-days.
Today, one person can cut a lot of trees within a day using mordent machines. This is the reason why it is much more important for all of us to know how to manage forests scientifically. Efforts should be made to ensure survival of a forest with mixed age and size of plants.
The complex vegetation structure has to be maintained. If there are patches of forests separated from each other, corridors of forests should be maintained between different patches, to give these patches continuity. When logging is being done, we must avoid the technique called ‘clear-cut’. In this technique all the trees are cut so that the land is clear.
New trees are then planted, fertilized and maintained. When the trees reach maturity, they are again cut and the process is repeated. This technique is more economical but it creates problems of soil erosion. This is the reason why clear-cut forests are always under the threat of soil erosion. The other alternative available is that only selected mature trees are cut at intervals. The rest continue to grow there. So, the land and soil is never left bare. No doubt, the cost of this operation is high but it is technically more sound.
Another point is that forests should always have mixed types of trees and plants. Pure stands, i.e. of only one species is never advisable. The reason is that if there is any problem for the only species, whole forest may be destroyed. In addition, mixed types of forest provide food, shelter, etc. to animals in a much better way.
Also, soil cover will be better as all round the year, some of the species will be shedding leaves while others will be green. Forest management also includes the controlling of forest fires.
ii) Social Forestry
One of the management practices is to allow afforestation, and social forestry is one such approach. The idea behind social forestry is to create forests with the help of society for meeting the demands of the society. Social forestry is a term used to denote tree-raising programmes to supply firewood, fodder, small timber and minor forest produce to rural populations.
Social forestry programmes have mainly three components:
a) Farm forestry, encouraging farmers to plant trees on their own farms by distributing free or subsidised seedlings,
b) Woodlots, planted by the forest departments for the needs of the community, especially along roadside, canal banks and other such public lands, and
c) Community woodlots, planted by the communities themselves on otherwise useless lands, to be shard equally between them.
The idea of social forestry is to grow forests on any available land, which is not being used for other purpose. So, the needs which are met through natural forests. This can save natural forests from degradation while allowing barren lands to be utilised purposefully.
Social forestry programmes have been launched by several states. Since 1976, social forestry programmes have been taken up in Madhya Pradesh. Derelict patches of forests near villages are being rehabilitated by planting fruit and other economically valuable species. Under the Hitagrahi scheme, the 60 comparatively poor families of a village were selected, and each given a hectare of derelict land for growing fruit trees. The forest department provides saplings, fencing and any other required materials.
Thus, the incentive given to the landless farmers by the forest department has brought about tremendous increase in social forestry. It is generally thought that wood is the fuel of the poor. Use of biomass, i.e. material obtained from living beings whether plants or animals, will reduce pressure on the supply and availability of fossil fuels such as coal, gas, kerosene, and other petroleum products.
So, for our country it is essential that we use more and more biomass as fuel. Already, in the rural sector 94.5 percent of cooking is done using fuels based on biomass. Even in urban sector, more than 58 percent of cooking is done by burning biomass. It is estimated that firewood demand per year for our country will be about 300 million tonnes in near future, as we cannot provide coal, kerosene or petroleum gas to such a large population.
If thins are left as such, natural forests will be cut to produce wood for fuel. This will lead to a further decrease in forest area. Here, social forestry can help in a big way. In every village, town and city large areas of land are degraded where growing agricultural crops is not economical. These areas, however, can easily support selected species of trees and shrubs, which provide fuel.
In the social forestry programme fast growing species of trees, shrubs and herbs are planted on the degraded land areas using community labor and resources. When trees and other plants grow, these are harvested for use as fuel, fodder, forage, etc, so that biomass becomes available very close to where people need these items. All this comes from the land, which was otherwise useless. So, people not only save natural forests but also derive benefits without spending much. When forests grow near the village or town, one additional advantage is that people do not have to spend much time in collecting the products.
Similarly, animals do not have to be taken to distant forests for grazing. They can graze in the community forests growing near the village or town. Social forestry will also provide other benefits, which conventional forests give. For example, erosion of soil and desertification will be checked. Retention of water through percolation into soil will be favored. Carbon dioxide and other gases and particulate pollutants present in the air will be absorbed and reduced by these trees and plants just as in natural forests. These forests can also be utilized for conserving biological diversity by growing those species, which are otherwise threatened. Social forestry will provide job opportunities to people who are interested in working in these forests. Indirectly, it will check the present trend of migration from rural areas to cities in search of employment.