Explained: Reading the new Forest Report

India’s forest cover has increased by 3,976 sq km or 0.56% since 2017. For the second successive time since 2007, the biennial State of Forest Report (SFR) recorded a gain — an impressive 1,275 sq km — in dense forest (including Very Dense Forest with a canopy density of over 70%, and Moderately Dense Forest with a canopy density of 40-70%). Given the pressure on forest land and natural resources, these figures have made happy headlines. But they do not tell how India continues to lose some of its best natural forests — a reality documented in the SFR itself.

Balance sheet:

* SFR data show 2,145 sq km of dense forests became non-forests since 2017. A dense forest can deteriorate into an open forest (10-40% canopy density) but conversion to non-forest signifies total destruction. This means India has lost dense forests one-and-a-half times Delhi’s expanse in just two years.

* Since 2017, plantations with high canopy density have added 2,441 sq km to the dense forest category, while 1,858 sq km of non-forests have become dense forests. These are plantations of fast-growing species since natural forests rarely grow so fast.

* Since 2003 when data on “change matrix” were first made available, 18,065 sq km — more than one-third of Punjab’s landmass — of dense forests have become non-forests in the country, nearly half of this (8,552 sq km) in the last four years.

Explained: Reading the new Forest Report

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