According to the State of Forest Report 2001 (SFR) the forest cover is 67.55 million hector. Constituting 20.55 per cent of the geographic area of the country the panorama of Indian forests ranges from evergreen tropical rain forests in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Western Ghats and the North Eastern States, to dry alpine scrubs high in the Himalaya to the north.
Between the two extremes, the country has semi-evergreen rain forests, deciduous monsoon forests, and sub-tropical pine forests in the lower montane forest.
The main areas of tropical rain forests are found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Western Ghats, which fringe the Arabian Sea coastline of Peninsular India; and the greater Assam region in the northeast.
Small remnants of rain forests are found in Orissa. Semi-evergreen rain forest is more extensive than the evergreen formation partly because evergreen forests tend to degrade to semi-evergreen with human interference.
Tropical forests of India are important not only from the ecological point of view but also from the fact that they are having economic importance. There are about 350 paper mills in the country followed by production of related products like plywood and veneer and matches. In 1995, a labour force of around 500,000 was directly engaged in the forest industry.
Deforestation is going on in the Maikal Mountains; Dangs (Maharashtra), Udaigiri subdivision (Assam) and nearly 40 per cent of the natural vegetation in the Western Ghats disappeared between 1920 and 1990 of which 70 per cent was converted to cultivated land and 16 per cent to coffee plantation.
Fighting Forest Fires
Forest fires can endanger people and wildlife, and controlling a burn is expensive, both in terms of manpower and financial cost. Yet, wildfires are a natural occurrence and serve important ecosystem functions. Forest landscapes are dynamic and change in response to variations in climate and to disturbances from natural sources, such as fires caused by lightning strikes.
Forests respond to these disturbances through a natural process called succession, a recovery process that occurs in predictable stages and enables forest regeneration.
Forests in which fires are regularly suppressed can burn much hotter and more dangerously when a fire finally breaks out. Without fire, large amounts of underbrush will accumulate on the forest floor, certain tree species may not regenerate (oak and pine, for example, need fire to crack their seeds), and the trees that do flourish become densely packed.
According to the USDA Forest Service, “Given favourable weather conditions, forest structure, fuel overload, and other factors, the number of wild land fires has been growing, getting larger, and gaining in intensity.” In 2004 these conditions contributed to approximately 8.0 million acres of burning vegetation, an enormous increase when compared to 50 years ago, and largely attributed to decades of “successful” fire suppression techniques.
More than 92 per cent of the forests in India are government owned and the responsibility of the forest management, including that of preventing forest fires.
Amongst various factors, which cause forest fires, the following are important:
1. Fires are caused deliberately by labourers collecting non-timber forest produce such as honey, sal seeds, etc.
2. Fire left smouldering by the negligence of labourers/pedestrians/grazens etc.
3. By vengeance of villagers.
4. Deliberately setting forests on by villagers with a view to getting fresh blades of grass for their animals as fodder.
The indirect losses of forest fires in terms of loss in soil fertility, loss due to soil erosion, loss of annual increment to trees, loss of slow moving fauna, loss of natural regeneration of many species etc.