Forests can be divided into various categories depending on the density, altitude and types of trees that grow there. Tropical forests, temperate forests, and coniferous forests are some examples. But these forests are now on the decline. Deforestation is on the rise and forests are also being degraded by external elements. As per the National Forest Policy of 1988, there should be 33 per cent forests in the country with 13 per cent in uplands and 20 per cent in plains.
Forests are one of the important resources for all human needs. They meet a number of our needs:
i. They provide food for human beings as well as animals.
ii. They provide fuelwood for traditional cooking in many parts of India.
iii. They maintain biodiversity in the environment.
iv. They produce important raw material for industrial uses including timber, rubber and essential oils.
v. They prevent soil erosion and help to maintain the groundwater level in the environment.
vi. They serve as a natural sink for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It maintains the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and therefore checks greenhouse effect.
vii. It acts as the natural habitat for wild animals.
viii. They maintain fertility of soil by preventing soil erosion and providing natural manure.
ix. Many herbs and shrubs that grow in forests have medicinal properties. These are being used as medicines by villagers and tribals who have indigenous knowledge of these.
Causes of the Decline of Forests:
Decline of forest is being caused by various agents that are turning to forests for alternate uses. These agents include farmers, logging companies, miners, oil corporations, ranchers as well as the growing human population. These agents often exploit forests for forest produce and to clear land for expansion of human activities like agriculture and industries.
Forest lands are continually being cut down to make place for agricultural activities. This leads to decline in forests.
ii. Logging activities:
Loggers tend to disrupt tree population. This is reducing forests cover.
iii. Mining activities:
Mining activities involve digging and explosions, which cause harm to areas which are covered with forests. The forest cover over the mines is destroyed. At the same time, workers on the site misuse forest resources.
Excessive grazing of forest land results in depletion of the green cover. It also renders the soil cover of forests futile for further cultivation. Rise in the population of livestock is a major cause of overgrazing problems.
v. Human population:
As life expectancy increases, human population is on the rise. Due to rising population, demands on nature are also increasing. Forests are being cut to make place for urban growth, to provide timber for construction, and to meet the food requirements of the growing population.
vi. Forest fires:
Forest fire, natural or man-made destroys long stretches of forests. Farmers burn forest for the purpose of cultivation.
vii. Construction of multi-purpose river projects:
To generate hydroelectricity, reservoirs are constructed behind the dam to store water. Such projects submerge and destroy forests on the river side.
Effects of loss of forests:
Some of the effects of deforestation are as follows:
i. Decrease of bio-source in forests adjacent to rural areas makes people migrate to urban areas for sustenance.
ii. Decrease in forest cover leads to soil erosion which leads to problems like floods, sedimentation and run-off of water.
iii. Unfair distribution of wood for domestic and industrial needs
iv. There will be shortage of raw materials for forest- based industries.
v. Disturbance of hydrological cycle leading to droughts
vi. Decline in fuelwood for those practising traditional cooking.