As the Kashmir is grappling with novel coronavirus, the administration has ordered felling or lopping of an estimated 42,000 Russian female poplars in the region to ward off allergies caused due to pollen produced by these trees.
According to an official of social forestry department, there are estimated 1.8 to 2 crore Russian poplar trees in Kashmir out of which 66,444 have been identified as to have been “causing trouble”. While the males of the tree species do not produce pollen, the females do in the month of April.
“Out of 66,000 odd Russian Poplar trees, 26000 have been felled; now this year the government has fixed a target to fell remaining 42,000 trees,” he said, adding that the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir has already passed directions to all the Deputy Commissioner to ensure “felling or lopping of these trees in order to ward off fear of allergies which creates further stress among people amid corona virus scare.”
The female variety of the tree sheds a lot of pollen in April. While there is no proof thus far that pollen can be a Covid-19 carrier, the suggestion that the corona virus might be air-borne has led the administration to order the “lopping or felling” of the trees across Kashmir.
The order, issued last week, has stoked fears that the drive may result in large-scale cutting of the trees, a move that many experts believe will have a huge impact on not just local ecology but also the economy.
Experts believe that felling of Russian poplar trees in one go will snatch livelihood of many people as “an industry of Rs 800 crore is dependent on its timber”.
Russian poplar trees, which can grow up to 30-40 feet in height, were introduced in Kashmir in 1981-82 under the World Bank-aided Social Forestry Project of the state government then.
The project aimed to “generate paid employment for the rural poor and improve environmental conditions” through plantations that provide fuel wood, small timber, etc.
The trees originated in North America but came to be known locally as Russi Frass (Russian poplar). In a matter of years, they became an important part of the landscape in Kashmir.
The species takes far less time (8-9 years) to grow than the Kashmir poplar, which grows over decades. This made them extremely popular among local farmers, who subsequently began to plant the trees on their own.
Jammu & Kashmir High Court has, on multiple occasions, ordered that they be felled or trimmed. Following a 2015 order in this regard, lakhs of poplar trees were felled across Kashmir.