from forest loss to gain- sonitpur baffles experts


An increase of seven square km forest cover in Sonitpur district, that has otherwise witnessed massive losses in its green canopy, has baffled wildlife experts here. 
This was revealed in the State of Forest Cover 2011 released by the ministry of environment two days back in New Delhi. 
“It is impossible to believe this fact. This could be because of some tea gardens which have encroached upon the adjoining forest land and raised shade trees, leading to the increase,” Satya Vashishth, former divisional forest officer of Western Assam wildlife division, Sonitpur said.
The report said the positive changes in Assam had been attributed to improvement of forest cover (shade trees) in tea gardens, natural regeneration and re-growth in areas affected by shifting cultivation.
There are a large number of tea gardens in Sonitpur district and the possibility of some of them encroaching upon forestland could not be ruled out. 
The only wildlife sanctuary in Sonitpur district, Sonai Rupai, had witnessed massive destruction and lost 85 square km to encroachment before 2007. There are at least 12,000 settlers within the sanctuary but not a single encroacher has been able to enter the protected areas since 2007. 
Chandan Bora, former forest official in Sonitpur, said one may have to look into the reasons of the increase but it could be that some encroachers had left the area after finding it difficult to manage. 
The 2009 forest cover report, based on 2007 satellite data, had shown a decrease of 10 square km in Sonitpur district. 
N. Anand, current divisional forest officer, Sonitpur (west), said the increase could be attributed to plantations raised by eco task force and plantations raised in general. 
“The eco task force started work in 2007 and the target was to cover 2,099 hectares and as of now, 2,500 hectares have been covered,” he said. 
The eco task force involves ex-servicemen in afforestation and eco-development programmes to help restore degraded ecosystems.
He said plantation began in Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary and protection levels are good there. “We have requested for five more years’ extension,” he said.
Karbi Anglong and Kokrajhar in Assam top the list of loss in forest cover. Both have lost 19 square km each, based on satellite data of 2009. 
The report said the main reason for loss of forest cover in Assam was because of shifting cultivation and extension of encroachment in some areas. 
After Karbi Anglong and Kokrajhar, the districts with the maximum loss in forest cover are Darrang and North Cachar Hills, with a loss of 16 and 6 square km respectively. Barpeta lost 4 square km of forest cover. 
“Massive tree felling in Rowta reserve forest in Darrang has hit the forest cover in the district,” Hiten Baishya, who works with the North Bank Landscape Programme, WWF India, said.
Sources said the encroachment could be much higher at 70 to 75 per cent though the official record showed over 40 per cent. 
Over 445.02 square km forest in the BTC was under encroachment. 
The total area under forest cover in the BTC is 3,466.77 square km, out of which 
reserve forests and proposed reserve forests are 2,531 square km and 264.66 square km respectively.


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