What do the Western Ghats, the Himalayan ranges, and India's greenest region, the Northeast, have in common? They would all be gone in the next few years if the appropriate measures are not taken.
India is home to a diverse range of biomes, and it is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries, having 8% of the world's known flora and fauna. With the exponential expansion in the human population (which grew by 12.5% in a decade), more food, clothes, and shelter are being manufactured at the cost of India's ecosystem, encouraging deforestation. Deforestation refers to the intentional removal/ clearance of forest land, and throughout history - selfishly, we have just been taking resources from nature without giving anything in return.
Over the next few decades, we remain in danger of losing some of the most beautiful places and species we grew up learning about. Changes are now more evident than ever. Since the early-20th century, accelerating issues such as unchecked CO2 emissions, unsustainable retraction of resources, and conversion of land, have been some of the critical factors that have been pushing us towards biological annihilation.
Over the last 30 years, in India, forests – nearly thrice the size of the Grand Canyon (15,000 km2) – have been lost to urban encroachment and industrialization, leading to deforestation. According to the Indian State of Forest Reports (2019), only 21.67 percent of forest remains.
Areas inaccessible in the past are now within reach as new roads cut through the dense forestland. From deer to leopards, wildlife has been prone to vehicular accidents. Roads through wildlife corridors can pose a barrier, restricting an animal's movement, making them susceptible to inbreeding, leading to population decline or local extinction (species like Red Pandas).
There are many ways in which deforestation is affecting wildlife. One of which is the ever-increasing cases of human-wildlife conflicts. Elephants have been one of the biggest victims of this growing conflict. As more and more of their habitat has been taken away, the wild species have no choice but to enter 'human settlements searching for food and shelter.
Bees pollinate almost 70% of the world's primary vegetation (cabbage, cauliflower, apple, etc.). Due to deforestation, bees are losing their natural habitat. Species like Rock Bees (Apis dorsata) are forced to migrate to cities, as these bees require height to make the hive, (i.e., walls of tall buildings). Their hives are often destroyed by humans as they feel threatened by the species.
When we think about saving the forest, one Chinese proverb comes to our mind. "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now", but it is not just limited to that. We also need to be considerate about what we're planting and where we're planting it.
Non-native/ alien species can interfere and pose a severe threat to the local biodiversity. Plantation of species like Eucalyptus, pinus, and acacia serves no purpose to the local fauna; instead, it forces them to migrate away from the forestland leading to a disruption in ecological equilibrium.
Although, the report signifies India's forest has increased over the last 13 years. But the truth is not as simple as it seems. The definition government uses to measure forest land and the concept of 'compensatory afforestation' (a term coined to replant trees as compensation for forests cut down) is highly flawed.
Replacing 100 -200 years old trees with saplings is not precisely fair compensation. It is scientifically proven that older trees store more carbon in proportion to their size than newer saplings. Species like the Indian hive bee (Apis cerana indica) prefer dark spaces and usually build combed nests in tree hollows, something new sapling cannot provide.
While urbanization is providing great opportunities to humans, it is negatively impacting the whole ecosystem. We have finite resources, and it all comes down to how responsibly we are consuming them and what measures we are taking to conserve the existing resources.