969 square km of Western Ghats may lose tree cover

Most of the evergreen forest in Dindigul, Nilgiris to be replaced by thorn forest, K’giri & Nellai to lose deciduous cover
969 square km of Western Ghats may lose tree cover

COIMBATORE:  A whopping 969 square km of evergreen and deciduous forests in the Western Ghats will make a transition to thorn forest by 2050, according to analyses made by the Anna University’s Climate Studio. This alarming trend was presented by Deepak S Bilgi, director of Department of Environment and Climate Change, at the inauguration of the Tamil Nadu Elephant Conclave 2023, on Friday.

As per the projections, the evergreen forests in the Western Ghats is a sprawling 1,464.72 sq km (baseline period 1985-2014), of which 249 sq km (17%) will turn thorny by 2050. Likewise, deciduous forest, spread across 6,346.21 sq km, will lose 720 sq km, or 11% of its coverage. The size of the thorn forest will increase by 969 sq km, from the current cover of 1,618.16 sq km, to 2,587.1 sq km. Dindigul and Nilgiris will lose the maximum coverage of evergreen forests, while Krishnagiri and Tirunelveli districts will see a dip in deciduous forest coverage. 

Supriya Sahu, Additional Chief Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change Department, told TNIE, “This is alarming, but now we know what would happen if we don’t act. We already announced the launch of ‘Restoration of Degraded Forests Landscape Project’, under which 33,290 hectares of degraded forest area will be restored in five years. NABARD has sanctioned a loan of `457 crore for the same. The Centre has also approved JICA-funded project titled ‘Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project for Climate Change Response’ (TBGPCCR), with an outlay of `920.52 crore, that will be implemented over eight years from 2022-23 to 2029-30.” 

Of the 5.65 lakh hectares of degraded forest in the state, around 2 lakh hectares lies in the ghats, hampering the forests’ ability to act as carbon sink, said sources. Chief Wildlife Warden Srinivas R Reddy said the forest department has removed invasive species from 4,000 hectares in the last two years. “No doubt forest degradation is an issue and would hamper elephant conservation, but we have to adopt a scientific methodology, while removing invasive species.

For instance, Lantana is used by ambush predators like tigers. We can’t remove it. Parallel restoration of the area with native fast growing grass is the key.” Forest Minister M Mathiventhan said there are 19 elephant corridors, which will be mapped to address encroachments or other obstructions.

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