GUWAHATI, Jan 19 - With a view to consolidating forest boundaries, the State forest department has asked the divisional forest officers to prepare a report on the status of reserve forests (RFs) in their respective areas of jurisdiction as well as prepare an eviction and post-eviction plan.
Newly appointed Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of Forest Force (HoFF) AM Singh said the exercise would aim to get a clearer picture of the status of the forest areas.
“We want to digitize the boundaries through use of GPS coordinates and field survey. We will see if we can put up boundary pillars. If the consolidation is not done and protection measures are not taken, the decline in the forest cover will continue. Once we get the boundaries of forests, we will use ICT tools for their protection,” Singh told The Assam Tribune.
There are 312 RFs and 145 proposed reserve forests (PRFs) in the State. Even as the RFs are facing the brunt of encroachment and tree felling, the government has been sitting on the proposal to notify the PRFs for the last several decades. A lot of developmental activities have already taken place within the PRFs. Sources pointed out that even the forest staff are not aware of the boundaries of the RFs at places.
Officials put the total encroached area in the RFs at over 3,738 sq km. Another 139 sq km forests under protected areas (wildlife sanctuaries and national parks) are also under encroachment.
The State of Forest Report 2017 had stated that there was an increase of 567 sq km of forest cover in Assam compared to the previous report prepared two years back. But the increase was mostly due to plantations outside the forest areas. The decrease in the forest cover in some districts was mainly due to rotational felling in tea gardens, shifting cultivation and developmental activities, the report had said.
“On paper, the figures have not changed much. But when we go to the jungle, we can see the actual status. Tree felling has been going on unabatedly and the quality of forests has degraded. We need to put into place a protection mechanism and go for a massive forestation programme simultaneously,” Singh said.
The forest department, he said, wants to enhance the quality of forests apart from increasing the forest cover. “The focus of the plantation programme will be on the degraded forests where the canopy density is less than 10 per cent. We are also aiming to convert the open forests into medium forests,” he said.
To mitigate the man-elephant conflict, Singh said fodder-based plantations would be carried out in the protected areas so that the animals get food within the forests and do not venture out to human habitats.