Jammu & Kashmir Lost Forest Cover Three Times The Size Of Greater Srinagar In 2 Years: Survey

2 August 2015
Kashmir Reader
Pardeep Singh Bali

Jammu: The state has lost 230,900 hectares (2309 square kilometres) of forest cover, more than three times the size of greater Srinagar city, in the past two years, the Forest Survey of India (2013-2014) says. The survey says that against the forest cover of 22,539 sq km in 2011-12, forests now account for only 20230 sq km of the total area. Mass media officer of the forest department Muzaffar Jan Bazaz said that out of 20,230 sq km of forest cover in the state, Kashmir has a share of over 50 per cent, Jammu 45.89 per cent and Ladakh 0.06 per cent. The highest forest loss has been witnessed in Jammu, the survey said. Liaqat Ali Dar, Kashmir joint director (headquarters) forests, said that in the past one decade forest cover has shrunk from 33.60 per cent to 19.90 per cent in the entire state. Excluding Ladakh, which is predominantly a cold desert, the loss of forest cover in Kashmir and Jammu regions is also alarming. 'As per the data with the forest administration, forests have shrunk from 61 per cent to 47.8 per cent in these two regions,' Dar said. Out of the remaining total forest cover, 34 per cent is moderately damaged, while 18 per cent area is under dense forest cover and 46 per cent area is open forest. Such massive deforestation-caused by illegal felling of trees, quarrying, creating settlements or extending farmland-has raised a question mark over the forest protection and conservation policies in the state and poses a serious threat to biodiversity conservation. Environment experts say the loss of 2,309 sq km of forests cover in 24 months threatens animal and bird species. They say it is for economists to assess the economic losses such devastation entails. 'Forests act as buffer against climate change and support the livelihood of urban or semi-urban settlements. Human activities, lenient approach of the state government and nexus between timber smugglers and officials has caused this loss of forest cover,' said a retired forest officer, wishing anonymity. He said privileging development in cities and urban areas over rural areas has also contributed to the loss of forest cover. 'It is crucial to identify the areas where forest cover has decreased. If the loss has happened in a patch connecting two forests, or in the forest corridor, it is a matter of huge concern,' he added. According to Dar, the forest department is working to 'rehabilitate' dense and open forest cover, while reviving moderately damaged forests will require special policies. He said forests in Shopian, Dodhpathri, Rafiabad, Ganderbal, Poonch, Doda and Rajouri are being fenced to prevent further damage. As a preventive measure, Dar said, the government has allowed importing timber but banned its export. It has even banned the inter-district transportation of timber. 'The forests could only be saved through social forestry. The people have to come forward to save this property, which otherwise is not possible to conserve,' he said.