Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR)

  • ISFR is a biennial publication of Forest Survey of India (FSI), an organization under the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change.
  • The report provides information on forest cover, tree cover, mangrove cover, growing stock inside and outside the forest areas, carbon stock in India’s forests, Forest Types and Biodiversity, Forest Fire monitoring and forest cover in different slopes & altitudes.
  • The 2019 report for the first time has assessed the qualitative nature of the forest cover, including listing its biodiversity and the type of plants and trees found.
  • It also created a national forest inventory for the first time on produce from forests.
  • ISFR 2019 is the 16th report in the series.
  • The assessment of forest cover is based on interpretation of LISS-III data from Indian Remote Sensing satellite data (Resourcesat-II) with a spatial resolution of 23.5 meters with the scale of interpretation 1:50,000 to monitor forest cover and forest cover changes at District, State and National level.
  • FSI has carries out mapping of forest types of India as per the Champion & Seth Classification (1968)
  • Shanon Wienner Index which gives species richness along with the relative abundance is also used.

Forest Survey of India (FSI)

FSI is a premier national organization under the union Ministry of Environment and Forests, responsible for assessment and monitoring of the forest resources of the country regularly.

It is also engaged in providing the services of training, research and extension.

Established on June 1, 1981, the Forest Survey of India succeeded the “Preinvestment Survey of Forest Resources” (PISFR), a project initiated in 1965 by Government of India with the sponsorship of FAO and UNDP.

The main objectives of FSI are

1.      To prepare State of Forest Report biennially, providing assessment of latest forest cover in the country and monitoring changes in these.

2.      To conduct inventory in forest and non-forest areas and develop database on forest tree resources.

3.      To prepare thematic maps on 1:50,000 scale, using aerial photographs.

4.      To function as a nodal agency for collection, compilation, storage and dissemination of spatial database on forest resources.

5.      To conduct training of forestry personnel in application of technologies related to resources survey, remote sensing, GIS, etc.

6.      To strengthen research & development infrastructure in FSI and to conduct research on applied forest survey techniques.

7.      To support State/UT Forest Departments (SFD) in forest resources survey, mapping and inventory.

8.      To undertake forestry related special studies/consultancies and custom made training courses for SFD’s and other organisations on project basis.

Salient Features of the Forest Report 2019

Increased Forest Cover

  • The total forest cover of the country is 7, 12,249 sq km which is 67% of the geographical area of the country. The tree cover of the country is estimated as 95,027 sq km which is 2.89% of the geographical area.
  • The total Forest and Tree cover of the country is 8,07,276 sq km which is 24.56% of the geographical
  • The current assessment shows an increase at the national level as compared to the previous assessment i.e. ISFR 2017 of
    1. 3,976 sq km (0.56%) of forest cover,
    2. 1,212 sq km(1.29%) of tree cover and
    3. 5,188 sq km (0.65%) of forest and tree cover put together area of the country.
  • The top five states to have shown an increase in forest cover are as follows:
Top 5 States with increase in Forest Cover
S.No. State Increase(in sq kms)
1 Karnataka 1023
2 Andhra Pradesh 990
3 Kerala 823
4 Jammu & Kashmir(Now UTs) 371
5 Himachal Pradesh 334
  • Forest cover in the hill districts of the country is 2,84,006 sq km, which is 40.30% of the total geographical area of these districts.
  • The current assessment shows an increase of 544 sq km (0.19%) in 140 hill districts of the country.

Decline of Forest Cover in North Eastern Region

  • Total forest cover in the North Eastern region is 1,70,541 sq km, which is 65.05% of its geographical area.
  • There has been a decrease of forest cover to the extent of 765 sq km (0.45%) in the region. Except Assam and Tripura, all the States in the region show decrease in forest cover.
  • The sharpest decline have been observed in the northeastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram.

Trees Outside Forests (TOF)

  • The rise in trees outside the forest area is due to an increase in tree plantation and afforestation
  • Tree outside forest were found to comprise nearly 29.38 million hectares, which was 36.4% of the total tree and forest cover in the country. Maharashtra had the largest extent of such tree outside forest.

Decline in the quality of forest

In terms of the canopy density of the trees comprising forest patches—is wavering.

  • While 1,755 sqkm of ‘moderately dense forest’ (MDF) became ‘Very dense forest (VDF),
  • 2782 sqkm of MDF regressed into lower quality ‘open forest (OF),’ Scrub forest’ or ‘Non forest.’
  • 2,145 sq km of dense forests became non-forests since 2017. A dense forest can deteriorate into an open forest (10-40% canopy density) but conversion to non-forest signifies total destruction.
  • Large tracts of tropical forests have fallen off the “dense” category since 2017. The biggest loss — 23,550 sq km — is under the tropical semi-evergreen head in SFR 2019.

Forest Cover in Tribal Districts

  • The total forest cover in the tribal districts is 4,22,351 sq km, which is 37.54% of the geographical area of these districts.
  • There has been a decrease of 741 sq km of forest cover within the Recorded Forest Area/ Green Wash (RFA/GW) in the tribal districts and an increase of 1,922 sq km outside.
  • There has been a decline in tree cover inside forests due to tribal populations getting “land titles” (patta).

Increased the tree cover

  • The tree cover of the country is estimated as 95,027 sq km which is 2.89% of the geographical area.
  • Maharashtra has had the highest increase in tree cover and a large part of that is due to horticulture.
  • The 2019 survey has found an increase of 5,188 sq km in total forest and tree cover in the country.
  • Tree and forest cover together made up 24.56% (8,07,276 sq km) of India’s area. In the last assessment it was 24.39%.
  • The nation’s tree and forest cover has largely hovered from 21-25% and is short of the National Forest Policy, 1988, which envisages 33% to be under such cover.

Wetlands and Mangroves

  • The total number of wetlands located within the RFA/GW is 8.13%.
  • Amongst the States, Gujarat has the largest area of wetlands within RFA in the country followed by West Bengal.
  • Mangrove cover in the country has increased by 54 sq km (1.10%) as compared to the previous assessment.
  • Mangroves have increased in coastal areas of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Odisha.

Carbon Stock Rises

  • The total carbon stock of the country was estimated at 7124 million tons, which is an increase of 42.6 million tons from the last assessment.
  • It implies that India is on the right track to achieve its Paris Agreement commitment of 2.5 -3 billion carbon sinks.

Forest Produce and Forest Fires

  • Dependence of fuelwood on forests is the highest in the State of Maharashtra, whereas, for fodder, small timber and bamboo, dependence is highest in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Annual removal of the small timber by the people living in forest fringe villages is nearly 7% of the average annual yield of forests in the country
  • The analysis reveals that 40% of the forest cover of the country is highly to extremely fire prone.

Criticism

  • This quantitative account of India’s forests leaves out numbers related to legally approved forest land use change.
  • One of the oldest critiques of the ISFR is of its methods. The methodology relies primarily on remote-sensing techniques that can pick anything that is green and of a certain scale on its radar. This is used to generate data on the extent of ‘green cover’.
  • This does not distinguish between natural forests, commercial plantations, orchards and bamboo groves while enumerating forests.
  • Areas with ‘tree stands’ of over 10% canopy cover are counted as forests, irrespective of whether they function ecologically as forests or not.
  • Of India’s 7.12 lakh sq km forest cover, 52,000 sq km is plantations that, in any case, cannot substitute natural forests in biodiversity or ecological services. Plantations can’t perform the tasks of holding soil, retaining moisture or supporting wildlife the way good forests do.
  • The report now includes trees on agricultural plots, along canals and highways or urban housing colonies. These trees are outside recorded forest areas and were included irrespective of their scale and density.
  • The report uses state-level tree inventories to calculate the extent of tree cover in both rural and urban areas. This is a highly unreliable source of data. In most states, tree censuses are either incomplete or non-existent.

Way forward to further improve the report

  • More time and resources need to be made available to identify and classify plantations through ground truthing
  • Make the maps available for free.
  • Continue with the biennial reports while conducting a more comprehensive study maybe every five years
  • Start reporting India’s green cover under more explicit categories, including plantations,
  • Make the forest grid data public for anyone to visit a green patch and check what stands in the name of forest.

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