Kashmir’s green cover halved in 30 years

By Binoo Joshi, IANS,

Jammu : Increasing cattle, movement of security forces, construction of new highways and roads and illegal felling — all these factors have led to a 50 percent degradation of forests in Jammu and Kashmir in the last three decades.

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According to state Forest and Environment Minister Mian Altaf Ahmad, the total geographical area of Jammu and Kashmir is 101,387 sq km while the forest cover is spread over 16,309 sq km — half of what it was in 1981.

Speaking to IANS, Om Prakash Sharma, a forest expert in Jammu, said: “The fundamental rule is that development causes degradation of forests. Development is essential; hence we cannot stop the felling of trees which at times is illegal.”

He said the movement of armed forces with heavy vehicles too has caused a loss to the forests. “The movement of security forces in mountainous forested areas has contributed to about 15-20 percent of loss to the forests.”

“We also need to control the cattle population close to forest areas which has increased 10 times over two decades,” he said.

The northern state is famous for its pine, fir, kail and deodar trees.

Harish Chander, a professor at Jammu University, believes the main loss to forests happened “when the felling of trees in forests was allotted to contractors. That has played havoc with the forests”.

However, the forest and environment minister blames militancy in the state for the present situation.

“The troubled situation in Jammu and Kashmir during the last two decades is mainly responsible for the degradation of forests and forest land,” Ahmad told IANS.

According to him, the other factors were “construction of new highways and roads network under various schemes”.

“Not to forget, the increasing population and livestock putting tremendous pressure on forests, among other natural resources.”

According to him, the state government announced a forest policy earlier this year for preservation of forests and afforestation.

It “emphasises on conservation of forest resources for ecosystem goods and services, meeting needs of the people for forest produce, and poverty alleviation through forestry-related activities”.

The minister said the main focus of the policy would be “protection of forest land, to increase tree cover of traditional forest, to check soil erosion…and these will lead to a boost in the tourism industry”.

He said some schemes will be introduced that will provide small-time employment to those living close to the forests. The policy would also focus on eco-tourism with the association of locals.

“We will import timber to meet the requirement of building infrastructure and continue the ban on the felling of green trees. We will give incentives for importing timber to save our forests. We will make strong law enforcement on this issue,” he said.

The minister said about 59 percent of the mountainous area in the state was under permanent snow cover, glaciers and cold desert where it was not possible to grow trees.

(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at [email protected])