SAAL FORESTS in the Terai region are on the verge of disappearing and causing a major ecological imbalance. Excessive grazing, frequent incidents of fire, and deforestation are the causes of an imminent ecological disaster in this forest-rich area of Uttar Pradesh.
Spread over 1,73,287 hectares in Gorakhpur, Bahraich, Lakhimpur Kheri, and Pilibhit districts, Saal (Shori Robusta) plays a vital role in maintaining bio-diversity, both in flora and fauna. The disappearing saal trees are leaving large tracts of land barren and also affecting soil constituents, vegetation, nutrition, ground water level, and paving the way for frequent floods.
Saal trees are good receptors of underground water. The underground water is recharged and keeps the soil moist. This is largely responsible for the area being fertile. Also, saal plays a major role in recycling major and minor micronutrients in the soil. Without them, vegetation is bound to be deprived of nutrition.
The disappearance of the saal forests will affect the timber market, as the wood is generally used for construction of door frames and windows. The State Government is able to supply only 2400-2500 cubic metre of ‘original saal’ as against a demand for 2.40 lakh of cubic metre in Uttar Pradesh. The remaining demand for timber is met from Malaysian or an exotic saal, which is of substandard quality as compared to the timber supplied from the Terai region.
Forest Department sources said the department had enough funds for regeneration of saal forests, but it was not being properly utilised, as there was no action plan.
Additional principal chief conservator of forests (Research and Planning) S K Dutta admitted to ‘extinction’ of saal forests in the Terai region. However, he said the State Government was already making efforts to re-generate the forests. Pre-emptive steps have been taken to check uncontrolled grazing and deforestation. Stress is also being laid on afforestation.
He said there was no paucity of funds. A third of the revenue generated from selling saal trees was being spent on regeneration, he added. The Forest Department still has Rs 2.60 crore for the purpose.
Though the department initiated steps for regeneration in the last two to three years, the threat of extinction became palpable much earlier.