The Uttarakhand government is planning to fell over 300 pine trees whose presence is reducing the prey base for carnivores and thereby increasing incidents of man-animal conflicts, forest officials said.
The forest department is readying a proposal to this effect. The proposal will be sent to the Union ministry of environment for its permission, which is mandatory in case felling of trees includes more than one kilometre area, according to the Forest Conservation Act (1980).
The proposal, which is still in the works, is yet to identify the places where the trees will be cut.
Additional principal chief conservator of forest (APCCF) STS Lepcha said as per a rough estimate, 300 trees cover over one kilometre area in a dense forest and hence the forest department needed the central government’s permission to this effect.
The latest Forest Survey of India (FSI) report says the hill state has 71% forest cover out of which 16% belongs to the pine trees, which are mostly found in Tehri, Almora, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar, Champawat and Pauri forest divisions of the state.
Forest officials said pine trees were quick to catch fire and their dry leaves (needles) covered wide stretches of fertile forest bed, thereby retarding growth of other trees by leaving no room for germination of seeds of other trees.
Herbivores do not inhabit pine trees dominated areas because of lack of food, said Paramjit Singh, chief conservator of forest (CCF) Kumaon. Continuous hunting by carnivores has declined herbivore population, as per forest officials. Thus, declining prey-base in forest has diverted carnivores like leopards into human population for food.
Principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) SS Sharma said pine had indirectly become the cause of man-animal conflict. He said this conflict was increasing because of a lack of prey base in the forest due to the presence of pine trees, which do not serve home to birds or animals. Broad-leaf trees can, however, help increase animal shelters instead and food, he said.
Lepcha said the department had to take the decision despite the fact that it earned R60 crore annually by selling pine resin. The reason is that pine promotes forest fires, which cause a massive destruction to man and the ecosystem, he said.
Pine trees in Uttarakhand are a matter of concern for the locals too. These trees have inflammable resin and leaves, which help, spread forest fires. The forest fire season begins in February and ends in June.
According to the forest department figures, 1322 forest fire incidents were reported in 2012, which burnt down 2822.57 hectares of forest area. The fire killed four people and 22 animals. In 2013, there were 245 cases damaging 374 hectares of forest cover. In 2014, 515 incidents of forest fire were reported, which destroyed 1000 hectares of forest cover.
Pine resin is collected and auctioned to registered contractors of Uttarakhand as well as adjoining states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Delhi.
Dinesh Pandey former honorary warden Nainital criticised the proposal. “What if the trees that are planted in place of pines do not germinate? We will lose a major percentage of forest in the experiment that wasn’t even scientifically tested,” he said.Pandey threatened to launch a protest against the department, if such a proposal was finalised.