HYDERABAD: Efforts to conserve forests across the country is likely to get a major boost, thanks to Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), an arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The Centre has developed a new system that can monitor changes in forest cover over areas as small as one hectare of land. The new system was made possible with the fusion of Optical Remote Sensing, Geographic Information System, Artificial Intelligence and Automation.
Apart from this, the new system will help NRSC generate monthly reports on forest cover and provide the specific latitude and longitude of location where changes in green cover are observed. Telangana forest department will be the first in the country to benefit from this new system. NRSC has already tested the system and will soon be conducting pilot study in Telangana.
P Raghuveer, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (IT) with state forest department said as part of the pilot project, NRSC will monitor forest cover changes in Kothagudem district, one of the worst-affected in the state. “We have entered into an MoU with the NRSC. The processing of satellite imagery and generating reports on forest cover changes usually takes about nine months, we have managed to bring it down to four to five months. We’ve asked NRSC to develop a system that can provide info on forest cover change once in five days,” he said.
How does it work?
Presently, satellite imagery of large tracts of forest lands —about 5-10 hectares — are analysed for positive or negative changes in green cover. Negative change means deforestation has occurred in that particular forest patch or forest quality has degraded there. Once the satellite images are obtained, they are processed by scientists and reports are generated on an annual basis on the changes observed in the forest patches. This report on forest cover changes, gives information on the area of forest that has experienced a positive or negative change inside a forest division.
However, more than large-scale level of deforestation, the forests in Telangana and across India are now facing threat from small-scale deforestation, in which forests of small patches of one hectare or lesser are encroached or chopped. This leads to fragmentation of forests and affects the wildlife as well. With NRSC developing technology to monitor forest cover changes over small areas by improving the resolution from 50 metres to 30 metres for Optical Remote Sensing, getting details of small-scale deforestation will become possible.
Frequency of reporting
Earlier the reports on forest cover changes were generated on an annual basis. However, now the NRSC has developed their automated forest change detection algorithm, by which it can generate reports on a monthly basis. It will also provide the exact locations inside forests where the change has been observed.
With this, the forest department need not wait for months together to get one report on forest cover change and can keep a tab on encroachments of forests or deforestation on a monthly basis, ensuring quick action as well as limiting the damage caused to forests.
Kothagudem worst affected
Kothagudem forest division saw the most ‘negative change in forest cover’ among the 55 forest divisions in Telangana. The area saw negative forest cover change of over 469.89Ha, which is a rise of 156 per cent from the previous year, as, in 2015-16, it recorded negative forest cover change of over 183.44 Ha.
Forest divisions which experienced negative change in forest cover
Negative change in forest cover can either mean complete chopping down of forest for encroachment or development projects or even degradation in forest quality. As per the latest forest cover change data by Telangana forest department accessed by Express, the state lost 1,736 hectares (Ha) of forest in 2016-17
Rapid deforestation in Medak
Medak seems to have become the hub of deforestation in Telangana as Hyderabad continues to expand. The forest areas experiencing negative change in Medak increased by almost 900 per cent from 30.5 Ha in 2015-16 to 304.5 Ha in 2016-17. This raises serious concern regarding protection of wildlife as the recent survey of carnivores across the State revealed presence of endangered species including striped hyena and wild dog apart from fox, jackal, jungle cat and palm civet.