A large area of land on which trees and other plants grow naturally is called a forest. And the wild animals (like lion, tiger, elephants, deer, snakes, etc.) and birds which live in a forest, are called wildlife.
The ‘plants’ and ‘animals’ of a forest are called ‘flora’ and ‘fauna’ respectively. Due to the presence of a large number of species (of plants and animals), forests are said to be ‘biodiversity hotspots’. One of the main aims of the management of forests and wildlife is to conserve the biodiversity which we have inherited.
This is because the loss of biodiversity leads to the loss of ecological stability of the forest ecosystem. We will now discuss the various stakeholders in the management of forests and their aspirations.
A person with an interest or concern in something is called a stakeholder. When we consider the management (or conservation) of forests, we find that there are four stakeholders in it. These are:
1. The people who live in and around the forest and are dependent to some extent on forest produce (forest products) to lead their life.
2. The Forest Department of the Government which owns the forest land and controls the resources from the forest.
3. The industrialists who use various forest products for their factories, such as wood for making paper and furniture, and tendu leaves for making bidis, etc.
4. The forest and wildlife activists who want to see the forests in their pristine form (original condition).
We will now describe what each of these stakeholder groups needs or gets out of the forests. The people who live in villages around the forests take firewood (fuel) from the forest trees. They usually lop (cut) the branches of the trees and pluck their leaves but do not cut down the whole trees. They take bamboo from the forest to make their huts and baskets for collecting and storing food materials.
The local people take wood for making agricultural implements and gather fruits, nuts and medicinal herbs from the forest. They also collect green fodder and graze their cattle in the forest. On the whole, people living near the forests usually use the resources of the forests in a way that much damage is not done to the environment.
In fact, the people living near forests had developed practices to ensure that the forest resources were used in a sustainable manner. So, the damage caused to forests cannot be attributed to only the local people living around the forests.
The Forest Department has a major stake in the resources of forests and wildlife because it is a good source of revenue for the Government. Most of the forest revenue comes from the sale of cut down forest trees for timber (which is wood used in buildings and furniture).
In order to plant trees for timber such as pine, teak, and eucalyptus, etc., huge areas of forests are cleared of all vegetation. This destroys a large amount of biodiversity in the area which harms the environment. The management of protected forest areas by keeping the local people out completely has some ill effects too.
This will become clear from the following example. The great Himalayan National Park is a protected forest area which contains alpine ‘ meadows that were earlier grazed by outside sheep in summer. So, nomadic shepherds (having no permanent home) drove their flock of sheep up from the valley to this area every summer.
After the formation of Himalayan National Park, the grazing by sheep was not allowed. This has a harmful effect on the growth of vegetation because, without regular grazing by sheep, the grass first grows very tall and then falls over, preventing fresh growth from below. The developmental projects like building roads through the forest area and construction of dams are also damaging the forests.
Even the large inflow of tourists to the forests for observing wildlife, building rest-houses for tourists within the forest and dumping of waste materials (like plastic bottles, etc.) by the tourists in the forest, are damaging the forest environment.
Industrialists have a major vested interest in forest resources. They consider the forests as merely a source of raw material for their industry (or factories). Some of the major industries which are based on forest produce are: Timber industry, Paper manufacturing industry (or Paper mills), Lac industry and Sports equipment industry. In fact, most of the deforestation is caused by industrial needs. It is true that wood from the forest trees is needed for manufacturing various types of goods required for development but at the same time efforts should be made to make up the loss of trees cut down from the forest.
This can be done by planting saplings in the forest in place of cut down trees. It should be noted that the destruction of forests affects not just the availability of forest products but also the quality of soil and the sources of water.
A major programme called silviculture has been started to replenish the forests by growing more trees and plants. Thus, silviculture is a major programme started to replenish depleting forests. The silviculture programme has many advantages:
(i) It produces a large quantity of raw materials for industry (like timber and paper industry)
(ii) It increases the area of earth under forests (which is good for the conservation of wildlife)
(iii) It maintains a perfect water cycle in nature
(iv) It prevents soil erosion
(v) It prevents floods
There are certain people (called activists) who are not dependent on the forests (or wildlife) in any way but who want forests and wildlife to be conserved to prevent undue damage to the environment.
They started by working for the conservation of large wild animals such as tigers, lions, elephants, and rhinoceros but they now recognise the need to preserve forests as well. This is because without preserving forests, we cannot conserve wildlife (wild animals and birds). We will now give two instances where ordinary people have played a great role in the conservation of forests by preventing them from being cut down indiscriminately.
There is a Bishnoi community in Rajasthan state of our country for whom conservation of forests and wildlife has been a religious belief. In 1731, Amrita Devi Bishnoi led a group of 363 persons who sacrificed their lives for the protection of khejri trees in khejrali village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
This shows the determination of some people to work for the conservation of their natural environment. The Government has recently instituted an ‘Amrita Devi Bishnoi National Award for Wildlife Conservation’ in the memory of Amrita Devi Bishnoi.
(ii) The Chipko Andolan:
Another example of the contribution of common people towards the conservation of forests is the Chipko Andolan (Hug the Trees Movement). The Chipko Andolan originated from an incident in a remote village called ‘Reni’ in Garhwal, high up in the Himalayas in the early 1970s.
A logging contractor had been allowed to cut down trees in a forest close to a village. The people of the village did not want this forest to be cut down because it would have spoiled their healthy environment. One day, when the men folk of the village were out for work, the contractor’s workers came in the forest to cut down the trees.
In the absence pf men, the women of the village reached the forest quickly and clasped the tree trunks with their arms, preventing the workers from cutting down the trees. The forest trees were thus saved. The Chipko Movement quickly spread across all the communities and helped in the conservation of forests.