BENGALURU: Efforts to regenerate the unique shola grassland forests in Chikkamagaluru district are an annual feature and the state Forest Department says it is an attempt to contain the shrinking shola cover in the Western Ghats. However, environmentalists say that these efforts have not yielded much result in the last three or four decades as there is no scientific planning or a proper protocol system to suit its unique climate and soil conditions.
Manik, Chikkamagaluru Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), told Express this was an ongoing programme and every year endemic species were being planted so as to regenerate them.
Rubbishing the claims made by environmentalists, he said, “As per our annual plan of operations, we are planting saplings not just in Muthodi but in other ranges too because shola forests have been shrinking over the years. We are not planting in the valleys but along the sholas. Our artificial regeneration programme will help protect these unique forest types found only in the Western Ghats.”
‘Regenerating Sholas is Tough’
Dr A N Yellappa Reddy, environmentalist who was successful in rejuvenating semi-evergreen deciduous forests in Uttara Kannada district during 1982-87, says regeneration of sholas is tough. It needs both scientific and strategic planning, he says.
He adds, “Sholas are shrinking because of biotic interference -- improper fire control measures and free grazing rights. There are no management strategies to protect peripheral regions from fire and grazing.
“Further, bio-piracy of medicinal, aromatic and flowering plants has resulted in the diminishing of biodiversity. Grasslands need rigid protection as they support 80-90 species of white ants that are responsible for formation of new soil with rich nutrients.
“The existing schemes do not holistically address these problems,” he says.
Ecosystem Being Harmed
Wildlife conservationist G Veeresh adds, the introduction of invasive species under many schemes proved to be harmful to the highland ecosystem. In the last few weeks, the shola hills near Mahal village of Samphige Katte have been damaged by heavy machinery. Already 2,000-3,000 holes have been dug for planting saplings.
Chandradrona hill ranges situated above 6,000 feet cannot sustain any tree growth. And the department knows this because for the last 30-40 years, they have been trying to rejuvenate trees but have been unsuccessful.
Defending their programme, the DCF said, “Earlier acacia, eucalyptus and other trees were part of the programme but now only shola species are being planted.
Sholas are pristine forests found only at higher altitudes where sunlight hardly reaches and the moisture content is heavy. It is a very complex type of forest which needs to be protected.”
Local conservationists say the department’s rejuvenation efforts have also failed in the hills of Bababudangiri and Mulliayanagiri because of the rocky terrain and the iron-rich soil that does not support trees.
Yellappa Reddy says, Unfortunately, crores have been spent to rejuvenate the mining belts of Kudremukh and Ballari but with nil results. “Till date, the government has not come out with a scientific protocol for the restoration of sholas and mining lands,” he adds.
What are shola grasslands?
Found in the high altitude regions of Western Ghats, they are patches of stunted tropical montane forests in valleys amid rolling grasslands. As per the definition given under Indian Forest Types, shola grasslands are also considered as forest out of the existing 17 types of Indian forests.
Shola grasslands play a vital role by retaining rainwater and giving birth to many streams and rivers in the Western Ghats. They are home to many endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna and support large animals like tigers, leopards, elephants and gaurs.