Eco-restoration: Invasive senna trees in Wayanad forests to be sold to KPPL

The proceeds from the sale will be used for afforestation and the restoration of natural habitats, Forest Minister A K Saseendran said.
Senna flowers
Senna flowersPhoto | Express

KOCHI: Grappling with the continuing human-wildlife conflict in Wayanad, the forest department has decided to expedite the removal of senna spectabilis, an invasive tree species that degrades wildlife habitats.

The department has reached an agreement with public-sector Kerala Paper Products Ltd (KPPL) for the sale of senna trees, which will be converted into pulpwood for the manufacture of paper. KPPL will procure the trees from 5,000 hectares of forest at Rs 350 per metric tonne.

The proceeds from the sale will be used for afforestation and the restoration of natural habitats, Forest Minister A K Saseendran said.

Senna trees have been spreading their roots across the Nilgiri biosphere, destroying the natural habitats of wild animals and forcing them to stray out of the woods in search of food. Though the Supreme Court has banned extraction of wood for commercial purposes from forests, the Madras High Court, in 2022, permitted the Tamil Nadu government to remove invasive exotic species causing a threat to wildlife.

A meeting convened by Saseendran decided to remove the senna trees and sell the wood to KPPL.

“The senna trees are seen growing abundantly on around 5,000 ha of the Wayanad sanctuary. We started debarking the trees a year ago and work is in progress on around 1,700 ha. Though the trees have dried up following debarking we found them growing from the roots in some areas.

So, we have started uprooting them on an experimental basis in some areas. But this is proving to be capital and labour intensive as the roots of each tree spread to around 50m. KPPL will now cut the trees and destroy the saplings growing from the roots,” said Wayanad wildlife warden Dinesh Kumar.

“The forest department started removing exotic species like acacia, mangium, eucalyptus and wattle from 1,532.52 ha of plantations in 2023-24 and allowed KPPL to procure 1 lakh tonnes of the extracted wood.

The department is removing invasive species and planting fruit-bearing natural plants in forest areas, which will help improve the availability of food for wild animals and reduce conflict. We have removed invasive species from 1,346.54 ha, which were then converted into natural forest,” Saseendran said.

According to a study by researcher P A Vinayan in 2023, the senna trees have spread over 123.86 sqkm of the Wayanad sanctuary, which has an area of 345 sqkm. “Our results show that an area of 123.86 sqkm (more than 35% of the sanctuary) is occupied by senna spectabilis in 2022-2023. Around 18.61 sqkm has high abundance of the species. The degree of invasion is very high in Tholpetty and Muthanga ranges of the sanctuary,” the study said.

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