The Forest Survey of India in 2017 has recorded forest area of Jammu and Kashmir to be 2,023,041 hectares (20,230.41 km2) consisting 19.95 percent of its present geographical area and 2.62 percent of country’s forest cover, with 18 percent very dense, 39 percent moderately dense and 43 percent open forests. However, over the last few decades, the intense developmental activities have left behind highly fragmented and non-contiguous forests of the extremely serene Kashmir valley.
Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing rapid decrease in tree cover when Indian State of Forest in 2019 reported an increase of 5,188 sq. km of forest and tree cover combined in rest of India. Despite their immense ecological and economic importance, the forests in the region are increasingly subjected to the threats, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, primarily incurred through agricultural expansion, the establishment of invasive alien species, overgrazing, deforestation and degradation, fire, overexploitation of forest resources, land-use change and urbanization.
Likewise, the process of habitat fragmentation has just started over the Bungus valley which was completely remote and undisturbed but now the process of road construction is going on in the outer zone and only 2-3 sq km core zone is left. The Government, without any prior plan and strategy, has started to uproot huge population of native conifers tree species for road construction. It threatens the medicinal plant wealth, and eventually will cause soil degradation, water pollution, solid waste pollution etc. Hence the incidences of hunting, habitat fragmentation will affect breeding as well as feeding grounds of wild fauna (animals).
The photographic evidences, taken on 16th July of this year, shows anthropogenic disturbances which will lead to detrimental effects on both forest and non-forest produces like medicinal plants, for which this majestic valley is known. In addition, deforestation and bifurcation of this continuous tree line into patches will be responsible for extinction of species. All the cumulative impacts of anthropogenic pressures like road connectivity will change community structure of forests and carbon stock potential of Bungus forests.
Construction of linear corridors in fragile landscapes of hilly areas alters the stability of mountain slopes and damages the vegetation cover and the natural environment. The construction of roads has adversely affected the ecological balance in all the hilly areas of Jammu and Kashmir. All these will eventually result into smuggling of firewood, timber and exploitation of medicinal plant wealth. Moreover, the road construction will enhance poaching, illegal hunting of critically endangered species, and above all it will increase the air particulate matter, solid waste generation.
So far many reports are coming out that after abrogation of article 370, in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir the Forest Advisory Council (FAC) granted official clearances for 125 forest land diversion projects between August and October 2019. At four meetings of September 18, October 3, October 17 and October 21, 2019, up to 198 projects, particularly for road building, were authorized by the FAC. The possible response of some officials is that, as of 31 October 2019 as part of the Jammu Kashmir Forest Act, which was established in 1987 by the FAC (Forestry Advisory Committee), the Jammu and Kashmir Forest Act was put to an end.
When the rest of the world is putting in huge effort for afforestation, the opposite is happening here.
The Author is a Research Scholar at Centre of Research for Development/Environmental Science and Department of Botany in University of Kashmir