According to a global survey conducted in 1970 A.D. about one-fifth of earth’s land was covered by closed forests with a canopy cover of over 20% or more while another 12% was under the open woodland with 5-19% of canopy cover (Reider Parson, 1974). This forest cover is already considered a meager one and even this too is shrinking at a fast rate.
The area under the Coniferous forests in the North has undergone little change since the; beginning of this century. This forest belt lies in Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe and the Russian states. The pressures of human activity and demands have never been heavy in these woodlands as compared to the tropical and temperate regions of the world. Due to early technological advancement and industrialization the bulk of population has shifted to urban settlements from these areas.
The evolution of intensive agriculture has enabled the small rural population left behind to feed the large numbers concentrated in towns and cities. In United States of America barely 2% of the population is involved in agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry etc. It, not only produces enough to feed the entire nation but also exports food grains to needy countries. The reduced pressure of demands and application of better technology in utilization of forest produce, have preserved the Northern belt of Coniferous forests across the globe from wasteful destruction.
However, elsewhere on this globe conditions are different. Extensive deforestation has been taking place in developing countries which lie in tropical and temperate regions of the world. We began 20th Century with about 7.0 billion hectares of forest cover over the land surface of our planet.
Such regional or global estimates of deforestation, however, do not yield a clear picture of the deteriorating situation. The extent of wasteful deforestation is usually found to-be much higher than the estimated or reported figures. In Africa, the decline in woodlands is almost 2.3 million hectares – per year. Large tracts of forests are cleared which results in ecological setbacks causing further reduction in forested area. Dense forests of Western Africa and those of Madagascar, Rwanda, and Burundi etc. are diminishing at a faster rate. Almost 75% of woodlands of Ivory Coast have been lost since 1960 A.D. Ghana has lost almost 80% of its forest wealth. In Nigeria as well the rate of deforestation was about 10% per year during 1975-1980 (Eckholm, 1991).
In South America, the tropical rain forests of Brazil enjoy a little respite from the wasteful destruction. Satellite pictures of Brazil’s Amazonian forests reveal a loss of about 2% only since 1970 A.D. But elsewhere in Southern America, the ill-planned clearance of forested area is way above one million hectares per year. In countries like Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, Venezuela etc. woodland clearance for grazing and farming is so rapid that within next twenty years the only forested area left shall be those of national parks and sanctuaries (Norman Myers, 1980).
In South-East Asia the same story is being repeated. Thailand, a country which has once been an exporter of timber, has to import it from other countries. Though the Government has enacted strict laws, unlawful felling of forest trees continues. The illegal timber trade is so organized that there are often armed clashes between the forest guards and the poachers. Thailand’s forestry department estimated in 1978 that within 25 to 30 years all of country’s forests shall disappear. Malaysia’s once lush green forests are also disappearing at a very fast rate.
Once a major exporter of timber, the country is now barely able to meet its domestic requirements. The same is the plight of Philippines which once had over 90% of its land under forests. It, now, has a forest cover of about 30% only. If the present trend continues by 2000 A.D. all of its original forests will be gone and timber supplied by replanted woodlands will not be sufficient to meet even the domestic requirement (Eckholm, 1991).
In India according to national policy laid down in 1952, a forest cover of about 33% was considered desirable. However, surveys conducted in the early seventies found a forest cover of about 22.7% only. The reduction in forest cover has been rapid during the preceding decade. We are losing our forest wealth at a rate of about 1.3 million hectares per year.