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NEW DELHI : India’s forest cover increased by 1,540 sq. km or by 0.21% between 2019 and 2021, taking the area under forests from 21.67% of the total geographical area to 21.71% in 2021, the India State of Forest 2021 report released by Forest Survey of India said on Thursday. However, almost all the northeastern states reported a loss in forest cover.

Tree cover also increased by 721 sq. km, taking 2.91% of the geographical area. Overall, there is an increase of 2,261 sq km (0.28%) of forest and tree cover, taken together, compared with 2019.

But, almost all the northeastern states reported a loss in forest cover—Arunachal Pradesh lost 257 sq km, Manipur 249 sq km, Nagaland 235 sq km, Mizoram 186 sq km and Meghalaya 73 sq km. The report said that the loss in forest cover and deterioration in forest canopy may be attributed to shifting cultivation, felling of trees, natural calamities, human pressure, and development activities.

States that have gained forest cover include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Karnataka and Jharkhand. The gain may be attributed to better conservation measures, afforestation activities, tree plantation drives and agro-forestry.

Environment ministry officials said northeastern states are losing forest cover mainly because they are vulnerable to natural disasters like landslides and erosion.

Another worrying finding is that there has been a loss of 1,582 sq km in moderately dense forests (lands with tree canopy density of 40-70%). There has been a gain of 2,621 sq km in open forests (all lands with tree canopy density of more than 10-40%); a gain of 242 sq km in scrub forests (forest land of canopy density of less than 10%), and around 501 sq km gain in very dense forests (tree canopy density above 70%).

Mangrove cover has also increased by around 17 sq km as compared to 2019. Mangrove cover has improved in Odisha, Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal, marginally in Andhra Pradesh and Goa but reduced by 2 sq km in Gujarat.

Madhya Pradesh has the highest forest cover in the country with 77,493 sq km, followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra.

The total growing stock from forests and trees outside forests is around 6,167.50 million cubic metres. The growing stock has increased by 251.74 million cubic metres compared to 2019. Growing stock quantifies forest resources and is an indicator of forest productivity.

The Survey defines forests as all lands of more than 1 hectare in an area with a tree canopy density of more than 10%, including trees, orchards, bamboo, palms etc., occurring over government and private lands. Thus, FSI doesn’t distinguish between old-growth natural forests and plantations or orchards.

“I have highlighted again and again through my research papers and in various other forums that in India, we do not know the extent of natural forests. It’s very important that we segregate the extent of natural forests and plantations like mango or coconut first. We cannot restore our forests unless we know how much natural forest we have. As you have pointed out, if we are losing moderately dense forests, then it’s worrying because these are definitely natural forests we are losing because normally, you will not see changes in the plantation area. This loss may be happening in the northeast, which needs to be evaluated and countered," said N.H. Ravindranath, forestry expert and retired professor at the Indian Institute of Science.

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