India might look green from the sky, but that is not necessarily good for biodiversity on the ground.
In 2009, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) announced that India’s forest cover had increased by over 5% in the last decade. A recent paper in Conservation Letters suggests that this might not be great news after all. Jean-Philippe Puryavaud, Priya Davidar, and William Laurance – biologists who have worked in the tropics for many years, show that the increase in India’s forest cover has come about entirely through the expansion of plantations of exotic vegetation. Since 1992, state- sponsored afforestation programs of fast-growing exotic species such as Eucalyptus and Acacia have expanded rapidly in the country, mainly to meet ever-increasing demands for timber and fuel wood. At the same time, however, native forest cover has reduced at a high rate of roughly 2.4% per year. This is extremely worrying because these newly created ‘forests’ of exotic trees are of little use in conserving native biodiversity.
The authors strongly believe that the main reason for the decline in native forests is fuel-wood collection by India’s huge rural population; urgent attention, therefore, needs to be paid to find and make other forms of energy such as natural gas, biogas and electricity accessible to them. The authors also urge the FSI and policy-makers to make better use of the technology available to monitor the fate of native and plantation forests separately. Failure to do so, they feel, will lead to a very misleading picture of the fate of India’s forests.
Puyravaud J, Davidar P & Laurance WF. 2010. Cryptic destruction of India’s native forests. Conservation Letters 3: 390–394.