Forest cover increasing but forest land degrading, top official says

By Malavika Vyawahare

India set itself the ambitious target of increasing stored carbon it its forests by 25-30%, a goal that cannot be met by just increasing tree cover, director general of forests, said.

Planting trees is not enough, Siddhanta Das, director general of forests emphasised during at a conference in Delhi, highlighting the problem of degraded soil in India’s forest lands which increases the probability of forest fires and leads to depletion of groundwater resources.

India’s forest and tree cover increased marginally between 2013 and 2015 (about 0.64%) but the quality of the forests the soil is deteriorating so we have frequent forest fires the rampant problem of soil erosion.

Das was speaking at the launch of the ‘Wood is Good’ campaign under the The Partnership for Land Use Science (Forest-Plus), a partnership between USAID and India’s environment ministry. The idea is to promote wood as a climate-friendly resource and a substitute to materials like plastic and steel because it is carbon neutral unlike the others while leave a carbon footprint in their production.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he announced India’s commitment under the Paris Climate treaty set the target of increasing the carbon stock in the country by 2.5-3 billion tonnes by 2030. Sequestering carbon from the atmosphere is one of the ways of mitigating climate change and trees are able to store carbon for a long time.

However, half of the carbon stored in forests is sequestered by the soil and poor soil quality diminishes a forest’s ability to act as a carbon sink. In India currently the carbon stock stored in forests and trees is less than 8 bn tonnes and enhancing this stock by 25-30% would be a tall order, Das admitted adding that the ministry was preparing a roadmap to meet the target.

Poor soil quality also impacts the ability of the soil to retain moisture and replenish groundwater reservoirs.During the monsoons the water washes away the soil. By the end of December the forest floor is dry, susceptible to forest fires. “If we retain moisture the forest fire probability will go down, the animals will not have to move out of the forest because of the fires, and the water table will rise,” Das said.

Environment minister Harsh Vardhan who inaugurated the two-day conference recognised the challenges in protecting India’s forests but said that their sustainable management was a question of moral responsibility for Indians. “We need to protect the rights of the children who are not here,” he said.

Source: Hindustan Times

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