Srinagar: Environmental experts have questioned the latest Forest Survey of India (FSI) report about Jammu and Kashmir.
In its report, FSI has claimed the total forest cover increased by 29 square kilometers between 2019 and 2021 in Jammu and Kashmir.
FSI divides forests into three categories: Very Dense Forest (VDF), Moderately Dense Forest (MDF), and Open Forest (OF). The FSI report mentions that the VDF decreased by 124 square kilometers from 4279 sq km (in 2019) to 4155 sq km (in 2021) indicating a loss of 2.89%. The MDF increased by 27 sq km (0.33%) from 8090 sq km (in 2019) to 8117 sq km (in 2021) while the OF showed the highest increase of 126 sq km (1.4%) from 8989 sq km (in 2019) to 9115 sq km (in 2021).
Dr. Anzar Khuroo, botanist and Senior Assistant Professor at the University of Kashmir said the forest cover seems to have not increased per se. Most likely the survey indicates an increase in the tree cover such as orchards and monoculture plantations.
“Like in South India, the FSI has included tea and urban plantations as a part of forest cover. They might comprise trees but not the elements required to make a complete forest system. Hence, the definition of the forest as per the survey is questionable,”
He pointed out that the graphs and tables formulated in the scientific reports are based on some primary original data.
“That data seems to be unavailable in the public domain,” Dr. Anzar said.
That said, he noted that the FSI has come up with some innovations this time. “For example, they have identified various climate change hotspots. Be it in Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeastern states,” he said.
Another Senior Scientist from KU said the definition of “forest” means a complex ecosystem with distinct interrelationships of non-living organisms (the trees, plants, animals, micro-organisms) and the non-living, inorganic, or abiotic part (soil, climate, water, organic debris, rocks) of an environment.
“However, the focus of the survey has shifted to plantations. Take the example of poplar, willow, and cupressus, which are simply mono-culture or commercial plantations. Commercial plantations have an economic purpose and can simultaneously provide some ecosystem services to us. While the old-growth forests are real carbon sinks. Once you compare the forests with these plantations, they cannot be on equal footing, he said, wishing not to be named.
He stressed that the focus of the government and policymakers is to invest a lot of public money into these commercial plantations at the cost of old-growth forests.
“The intention behind plantations might be good but it sidelines the motive of the actual preservation of these old-growth forests. Also, nobody answers the success rates of these plantations? These are some of the challenges confronting our forest policymaking,” he said.
He added, according to the survey, the staffers go for an annual inventory across the forest regions of the country.
“Take, for example, the inventory for the Tangmarg or Sonmarg forest division. It might be there but it’s not in the public domain to check and authenticate the findings claimed by them,” he said.
Senior Assistant Professor and Coordinator Department of Geoinformatics, KU Dr. Irfan Rashid said increasing apple orchards in South Kashmir and plantations don’t fit in the ecological definition of the forests.
“However, it appears that the survey has included them in the moderately dense and open forest category. This poses a big question on whether forest cover has actually increased or not,” Dr. Irfan said.
He said the survey also claims that forest biomass of various areas has been estimated.
“But how many field data points do they have for J&K? These questions remain to be addressed,” Dr. Irfan said.
Also, he explained that the report talks about the areas vulnerable to forest fires (FF).
“In Kashmir valley, the Kupwara district is mentioned as prone to FF. If we check the recent incidents of forest fires, Dachigam-Zabarwan and Pahalgam and some other areas have seen such incidents of late. The maps do not seem to mention them,” Dr. Irfan said.