FOREST & WILD LIFE
Biodiversity: Biodiversity or Biological Diversity is immensely rich in wildlife and cultivated species, diverse in form and function but closely integrated system through multiple network of interdependencies.
Flora and Fauna in India
India is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of its vast array of biological diversity, and has nearly 8 per cent of the total number of species in the world (estimated to be 1.6 million).
List of Critically Endangered Species: Cheetah, pink-headed Duck, Mountain Quail, Forest Spotted Owl, madhucha insignis (wild mahua), hubbardia heptaneuron (a grass species)
Classification Based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN):
Normal Species: Species whose population levels are considered to be normal for their survival, such as cattle, sal, pine, rodents, etc.
Endangered Species: These are species which are in danger of extinction. The survival of such species is difficult if the negative factors that have led to a decline in their population continue to operate. The examples of such species are black buck, crocodile, Indian wild ass, Indian rhino, lion tailed macaque, sangai (brow anter deer in Manipur), etc.
Vulnerable Species: These are species whose population has declined to levels from where it is likely to move into the endangered category in the near future if the negative factors continue to operate. The examples of such species are blue sheep, Asiatic elephant, Gangetic dolphin, etc.
Rare Species: Species with small population may move into the endangered or vulnerable category if the negative factors affecting them continue to operate. The examples of such species are the Himalayan brown bear, wild Asiatic buffalo, desert fox and hornbill, etc.
Endemic Species: These are species which are only found in some particular areas usually isolated by natural or geographical barriers. Examples of such species are the Andaman teal, Nicobar pigeon, Andaman wild pig, mithun in Arunchal Pradesh.
Extinct Species: These are species which are not found after searches of known or likely areas where they may occur. A species may be extinct from a local area, region, country, continent or the entire earth. Examples of such species are the Asiatic cheetah, pink head duck.
Number of Endangered Species: 79 species of mammals, 44 of birds, 15 of reptiles, and 3 of amphibians, 1,500 plant species are considered endangered.
Forest cover 637,293 sq km, which is 19.39% of the total geographical area.
Dense forest: 11.48%
Open forest: 7.76%
Causes of Depletion of Flora and Fauna:
Agricultural Expansion: Between 1951 and 1980, according to the Forest Survey of India, over 26,200 sq. km. of forest area was converted into agricultural land all over India. Substantial parts of the tribal belts, especially in the northeastern and central India, have been deforested or degraded by shifting cultivation (jhum), a type of ‘slash and burn’ agriculture.
Enrichment Plantation: Promotion of a few favoured species, in many parts of India, has been carried through the ironically-termed “enrichment plantation”, in which a single commercially valuable species was extensively planted and other species eliminated.
Development Projects: Large-scale development projects have also contributed significantly to the loss of forests. Since 1951, over 5,000 sq km of forest was cleared for river valley projects. Clearing of forests is still continuing with projects like the Narmada Sagar Project in Madhya Pradesh, which would inundate 40,000 hectares of forest.
Mining: The Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal is seriously threatened by the ongoing dolomite mining. It has disturbed the natural habitat of many species and blocked the migration route of several others, including the great Indian elephant.
Unequal Access to Resources: The richest five per cent of Indian society probably cause more ecological damage because of the amount they consume than the poorest 25 per cent. The former shares minimum responsibilities for environmental well-being.
Social Effect of Resource Depletion:
In many societies, women bear the major responsibility of collection of fuel, fodder, water and other basic subsistence needs. As these resources are depleted, the drudgery of women increases and sometimes they have to walk for more than 10 km to collect these resources. This causes serious health problems for women and negligence of home and children because of the increased hours of work, which often has serious social implications. The indirect impact of degradation such as severe drought or deforestation-induced floods, etc. also hits the poor the hardest. Poverty in these cases is a direct outcome of environmental destruction.
The destruction of forests and wildlife is not just a biological issue. The biological loss is strongly correlated with the loss of cultural diversity. Such losses have increasingly marginalised and impoverished many indigenous and other forest-dependent communities, who directly depend on various components of the forest and wildlife for food, drink, medicine, culture, spirituality, etc.
Benefits of Conservation:
Conservation preserves the ecological diversity and our life support systems – water, air and soil. It also preserves the genetic diversity of plants and animals for better growth of species and breeding. For example, in agriculture, we are still dependent on traditional crop varieties. Fisheries too are heavily dependent on the maintenance of aquatic biodiversity.
The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972:
An all-India list of protected species was also published. The thrust of the programme was towards protecting the remaining population of certain endangered species by banning hunting, giving legal protection to their habitats, and restricting trade in wildlife. Central and many state governments established national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The central government also announced several projects for protecting specific animals, which were gravely threatened, including the tiger.
Government's Categorization of Forests:
(i) Reserved Forests: More than half of the total forest land has been declared reserved forests. Reserved forests are regarded as the most valuable as far as the conservation of forest and wildlife resources are concerned.
(ii) Protected Forests: Almost one-third of the total forest area is protected forest, as declared by the Forest Department. This forest land are protected from any further depletion.
(iii) Unclassed Forests: These are other forests and wastelands belonging to both government and private individuals and communities.
New Trends In Conservation Policy
Increase Biodiversity: The conservation projects are now focusing on biodiversity rather than on a few of its components. There is now a more intensive search for different conservation measures. Increasingly, even insects are beginning to find a place in conservation planning. In the notification under Wildlife Act of 1980 and 1986, several hundred butterflies, moths, beetles, and one dragonfly have been added to the list of protected species. In 1991, for the first time plants were also added to the list, starting with six species.
Community and Conservation
• In some areas of India, local communities are struggling to conserve these habitats along with government officials, recognising that only this will secure their own long-term livelihood.
• In Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, villagers have fought against mining by citing the Wildlife Protection Act. In many areas, villagers themselves are protecting habitats and explicitly rejecting government involvement. The inhabitants of five villages in the Alwar district of Rajasthan have declared 1,200 hectares of forest as the Bhairodev Dakav ‘Sonchuri’, declaring their own set of rules and regulations which do not allow hunting, and are protecting the wildlife against any outside encroachments.
• Nature worship is an age old tribal belief based on the premise that all creations of nature have to be protected. Such beliefs have preserved several virgin forests in pristine form called Sacred Groves (the forests of God and Goddesses). These patches of forest or parts of large forests have been left untouched by the local people and any interference with them is banned. Certain societies revere a particular tree which they have preserved from time immemorial.
• The Mundas and the Santhal of Chhota Nagpur region worship mahua (Bassia latifolia) and kadamba (Anthocaphalus cadamba) trees, and the tribals of Orissa and Bihar worship the tamarind (Tamarindus indica) and mango (Mangifera indica) trees during weddings. To many of us, peepal and banyan trees are considered sacred.
• Indian society comprises several cultures, each with its own set of traditional methods of conserving nature and its creations. Sacred qualities are often ascribed to springs, mountain peaks, plants and animals which are closely protected. You will find troops of macaques and langurs around many temples. They are fed daily and treated as a part of temple devotees. In and around Bishnoi villages in Rajasthan, herds of blackbuck, (chinkara), nilgai and peacocks can be seen as an integral part of the community and nobody harms them.
• The famous Chipko movement in the Himalayas has not only successfully resisted deforestation in several areas but has also shown that community afforestation with indigenous species can be enormously successful.
• Farmers and citizen’s groups like the Beej Bachao Andolan in Tehri and Navdanya have shown that adequate levels of diversified crop production without the use of synthetic chemicals are possible and economically viable.
• In India joint forest management (JFM) programme furnishes a good example for involving local communities in the management and restoration of degraded forests. The programme has been in formal existence since 1988 when the state of Orissa passed the first resolution for joint forest management. JFM depends on the formation of local (village) institutions that undertake protection activities mostly on degraded forest land managed by the forest department. In return, the members of these communities are entitled to intermediary benefits like non-timber forest produces and share in the timber harvested by ‘successful protection’.
• The clear lesson from the dynamics of both environmental destruction and reconstruction in India is that local communities everywhere have to be involved in some kind of natural resource management. But there is still a long way to go before local communities are at the centre-stage in decision-making. Accept only those economic or developmental activities, that are people centric, environment-friendly and economically rewarding.