Explain the reason and effects of depletion of natural forest resources.
- The problem of depletion and destruction of forests cause imbalances and enhance threatening the survival of the human species. In the past 100 years the world has lost almost half its forest area. And, as indicated by reports of the FAO (Food and Agriculture) the Earth is losing on net every year 11.2 million hectares of virgin forest.
- Over the years, the area under forest cover has decreased steadily, as forests have been cleared for agriculture, industry, housing, mining and other development activities like the construction of roads, railways, and hydroelectric plants.
- This decline of forests, particularly serious in the case of tropical forests not only increases the greenhouse effect by reducing the absorption of carbon dioxide but also aggravated the decline of water resources.
- As the dwindling forest cover, logically increases rainfall runoff, which favours floods, soil erosion and reduces the amount that seeps into the ground to recharge aquifers.
- Since the beginning of civilization, as seen from the Indus Valley Civilization, people have been clearing land for agriculture to meet the food needs of the ever- growing population. Most forest communities follow a method of slash and burn or shifting cultivation, known as Jhum in the Indian subcontinent. They clear a patch of forest, cultivate crops on it, and abandon it the following season. Then they move on to a new area and follow the same pattern. They often return to the same area after a few years. This method is more common in the hilly regions.
- It is now believed that Jhum was a good method of cultivation as the land was left uncultivated for a long period. This allowed the forest to regenerate and the soil to stabilize. Once the trees are felled, the soil becomes less fertile as it removes the nutrient-giving vegetation layer. This also leads to severe soil erosion. If the land is left to regenerate, the forest re-grows and the soil becomes stable.
- Today, though, this method of cultivation causes extensive damage to the area. Due to the increase in population, people are compelled to cultivate on the same plot of land more frequently as there is very little forest area available. Forests are also being converted to permanent settlements. Thus, forests cannot regenerate, and, in some cases, forest areas have become wasteland within a few years due to frequent cultivation. Forest conservation measures:
- Adoption of massive plantation (commercial forestry) and forest extensions (social forestry, argo forestry, urban forestry).
- Prohibition of mining and construction activities.
- Enforcement of strict environmental laws and legal provisions (reserve forests, sacred forests, reforestation, block cutting).
- Public awareness through afforestation and forest conservation programmes.
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