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Issue:January' 2018


Experimental silviculural fellings

Rakesh Lohumi

A eucalyptus forest The experimental silvicultural fellings being carried out in Himachal Pradesh will redefine forest management and may eventually pave the way for revival of green felling in the country after a gap of 22 years. Besides encouraging regeneration, the experiment is also aimed at achieving mixed species forests with multilayered canopy to maintain a health biodiversity and having more efficient carbon sequestration capability.
The Supreme Court had imposed complete ban on felling of trees in all forest areas, public or private in December 1996 to protect the country’s fast depleting green cover. The court took serious view of the state’s inability to manage its forests properly and barred it from carrying out any commercial fellings.
Over the years emphasis on commercial exploitation of forests had not only led to indiscriminate, illicit and excessive felling of trees but also led to lop-sided development with socially useful broadleaved species getting replaced with chil (pine) and eucalyptus. The monoculture of these two species created problems for local people who were dependent on forests for their livelihood.
The court allowed felling of green trees to a very limited extent on experimental basis on the plea of the state that silvicultural operations were essential to ensure proper regeneration of forests. The main argument was that if mature trees died, there would not be enough young ones to replace them. The court referred the matter to the Central Empowered Committee and on its recommendation granted permission with stringent conditions early this year. The main objective of the experiment is to ascertain whether or not silvicultural operations help in regeneration of forests as claimed by the state.
The court also set up a committed headed by A former Principal Chief conservator of Forests VP Mohan to oversee and guide the experimental silvicultural operations and help evolve the regulatory framework and mechanisms to carry out operational monitoring and ensuring compliance of all the stipulated conditions at the initial stages and for the eventual strategic monitoring to evaluate the overall success of the experimental work. The committee recently submitted its first of the four sixmonthly reports.
The permission for silvicultural fellings, including thinning, was limited to only three working circles of Chil (Pinus Roxburghii), Sal (Shorea Robusta) and Khair (Acacia Catechu) occurring below the altitude of 1500 metre. No green fellings are to be carried out in steep slopes and along streams and nallas and no other broad leaved species will be felled. Accordingly, Nurpur (Khair),Paonta (Sal) and Bharari (Chil) ranges were selected for the experiment. “There is little possibility of illicit as the forest areas where felling is to be done are to be videographed separately at regular intervals to clearly indicate the condition and state of the forest before felling, during felling and after felling,” says VP Mohan, the head of the monitoring committee.

A forest under salvage The experiment would also take care of the problem of invasive weeds which had invaded vast tracts of forests in the lower and mid-hill areas of the state. The removal of Lantana weed was an integral component of regeneration felling and the process had to be completed before the felling operations commence, so that the regeneration of the felled area could be taken up forthwith, he explained.
In case of Khair forest at least 25 percent of mature trees will be retained as mother trees and these will be clearly reflected in the videography, duly marked as “not to be felled”. As far as Chil Pine and Sal trees a minimum of 40 mature trees are to be retained per hectare. Felling operations in the adjoining forest area of the already felled area will be taken up only after five years when the regeneration is established in the already cleared forest area. It will also be ensured that these forest areas are protected and kept free from grazing.

A pine forest The monitoring committee recommended that 50 hectare of eucalyptus forests Paonta and Nahan forest divisions for felling during 2018- 19 on an experimental basis to pave the way for regeneration of native broad leaved species.
Digital technology is being used to take advantage of platforms like Google Earth to have real time picture for effective monitoring in the field. All the regeneration blocks have been digitised and referenced with GPS (Geo-Positioning System) and densities validated with Google earth with field surveys. All the trees have been enumerated along with species and diameter.

Another view of forests being worked revival of silvicultural operations like cleaning, thinning and salvage of dead, dry trees and controlled burning for disposal of slash in accordance with approved Forest Working Plans will also improve rural livelihoods for the Village Forest Development Societies.
The monitoring committee has, considering that silvicultural operations are being revived after a long gap, recommended a revamp of the three concerned forest divisions to ensure strict compliance of the intended interventions. These divisions should be manned by officers from IFS cadre and likewise range officers in the three selected ranges of Nurpur, Bharari and Paonta, should be from direct recruits and not promoted incumbents so that professional aspects of the work are not compromised.
In the past paucity of funds affected management of forests as the department could not carry out the prescribed operations in accordance with the forest plans. The court has taken and undertaking from the government that it will ensure sufficient budgetary provisions for undertaking regeneration of the felled area in the financial year following the felling year.
The pilot initiative for silvicultural fellings will have long term implications for scientific management of forests and its success may lead to similar initiatives in other states and pave the way for limited green fellings.