Pines not best answer for afforestation in Himachal – 1


By: Rahul Saxena

I am not a dedicated tree lover as most of our urban friends are. Their stand is justified in their own way, considering the perpetual scarcity of clean air in the cities. Having lived in Himachal for sometime, I also understand that our planners’ enthusiasm to see trees on 50% of the land has played havoc with the ecology and peoples’ livelihoods.

Most of the plantations that we have in the lower altitudes of the state are those of Chir pines. While these plantations may lend a verdant look to the landscape, look beneath the surface, and you shall find a combination of obnoxious weeds, eroded top-soil, exposed under-strata and inflammable leaf litter of pines. These plantations are set afire, almost every year, by the locals in the hope of getting those few blades of grass, which they used to get before most common grasslands and scrub forests were planted with monoculture of pines.

This act triggers the cycle of degradation, which ends with the land becoming devoid of soil and the local biodiversity. There is no solution to ecological rehabilitation of these plantations but to convert them into mixed specie-stands with trees/shrubs/grasses/creepers that provide the local people with some benefits and increase their stake in protecting the forest. A debate on whether trees are better than shrubs/grasses holds no significance as all of these are nature’s creations and all have their own different comparative advantages (even pine trees for that matter, if planted judiciously). Moreover, if a piece of land is enclosed for the protection of the planted trees, the grass yield will increase. Also, improved grasses, shrubs and creepers can be added to the area if the local people express the need.

Sadly, the functioning of the Forest Department during the past century and a half of implementing colonial policies has alienated the common people in the villages from their forests. Forests, which were once common property are now considered government property.

Hence, the notion, that anything concerned with the forests should be on the government’s agenda and not the people’s; including planting trees on forest land/protecting them/making systems of sharing of benefits from forest resources. Until all of us, the Forest Department employees, the people’s advocates and the people themselves efface this notion, forest resources in our state will keep getting degraded and decimated, affecting ecosystem conservation and people’s livelihoods.

For Part – 2 of this article CLICK HERE. 

The author is member and Secretary of Palampur based NGO – Lok Vigyan Kendra .

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  1. Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) occurs naturally in the himalayas between elevations ranging from 3000 to 6000 feet asl. These trees form a biotic climax (i.e. the continued occurence of this species is primarily because of the frequent and regular fires that occur in this zone – and we all know that 99% of fires are caused by humans). If there were no fires, the chir forests would gradually convert into a more mesophytic vegetation – composed of broadleafed species that are more or less evergreen. Chil trees have been traditionally tapped for resin and this perhaps was the reason that the British foresters (and later Indian foresters too) maintained the forests as such, using fire as a tool for their continuity.

    As far as raising chir plantations is concerned, the author has rightly pointed out that chil was preferred for plantations because of its hardiness and its capability of adapting to the most adverse climatic and soil conditions. What needs to be appreciated is that the Forest Department follows and implements the policies as laid down by the Government from time to time. The 1952 Forest policy laid emphasis on commercial forestry and on increasing the productivity of the forests – hence the emphasis on plantation of timber species like deodar, and on commercial species like chil, khair and eucalyptus. In 1988 the policy was revised and the emphasis shifted to "forestry for the people". Therafter the emphasis has moved to fuel and fodder species and involvement of people in the planning and management of plantations. JFM is the most recent thing. Today chil forms just 20% of the total plantation effort.

    I appreciate the author's concern for soil and water conservation, but would like to clarify that initially nothing but chil could have survived on the barren and eroded slopes that were available for plantation. Broad leafed plants are more demanding as far as soil nutrients and water is concerned. Now that the soil conditions have been altered under pine plantations, perhaps the time has come to carry out underplanting in these plantations with bamboo, oak (ban), daru and other local species. The Forest Department is addressing this issue with some trials, but the replacement of the pine plantations will take at least 50-60 years, if not more.

  2. I am thankful to the auther for bringing such an issue for discussion.I am neither forest worker nor a social activist working for plantation, I am just sharing my practicle experience here. I have a small farm surrounded by a dense chil forest.No shrub grows under this commercial tree, atleast , I have not seen growing under it. As a result no wild life in chil forest.And when there is no shrubs, no bushes ,a lot of soil errosion, no water hoarding,dryness and dryness. Thanks to the forest department for planting chil tree in this region, just for mortality reason and giving progress to the government.Deodar would not need much efforts, but definetly a little more .

    chil definetly increases the environmental temperature,may be responsible for global warming to some extent.I belong to the area where lots of deodar trees already growing well naturaly, then why plantation of chil trees? simply for giving progress for nothing done by forest department.Deparment must stop plantation nursery of chil and try to grow sapling of environmental friendly tree.

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