Unplanned development activities have been affecting ecological integrity, find researchers from IISc. and Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur
An analysis of landscape dynamics and forest fragmentation of Shivamogga district by researchers between 1973 and 2018 has revealed a 10% net loss in forest cover and increased fragmentation.
The study, Insights of Forest Dynamics for the Regional Ecological Fragility Assessment, published in August in the Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing, shows how unplanned development activities have been affecting the ecological integrity. Forests have been undergoing major transitions with the breaking of contiguous native forests into small parcels of land, restricting the movement of species, and limiting the potential of species for dispersal and colonisation.
Conducted by researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, with a focus on ecologically sensitive regions (ESR) at the village levels, the study reveals that in Shivamogga, which is in the Central Western Ghats, the forest cover decreased from 43.83% in 1973 to 34.02% in 2018. This, the study says, was primarily caused by the expansion of agriculture, horticulture, and forest plantations.
“The forest fragmentation has increased, evident from the decline of the interior forest to an extent of 11% from 26% [1973 to 2018],” the study says, pointing out that vegetation cover declined from 96.57% to 86.55%, whereas paved or built-up surfaces have increased from 0.63% to 2.35% in the same period.
“The results highlight that the conversion of forests to commercial agriculture, industrial and cascaded development activities acted as major driving forces of degradation. Forest fragmentation analysis highlights that the domination of forests receded during the post-1990s with the formation of non-forest patches. The unauthorised land holdings are another major issue faced by the forests of Shivamogga,” the study adds, alleging that “political, social, and religious pressures are threatening forests and troubling regulatory agencies in management.”
T.V. Ramachandra from IISc., one of the authors of the study, told The Hindu that many projects are coming up in the district, including in the ESR.
The researchers have emphasised on the need for an immediate “eco-restoration measure” to arrest fragmentation, human–animal conflicts, and the consequent reduction in goods and services.
Among the recommendations the researchers have made are not to allow any river diversion or stream alternations even in the name of drinking water projects as the region is already facing a severe water crisis, and not allowing monoculture plantations.
“In the case of fragmented forests, especially in Sorab, Sagar, and Bhadravati taluks, connectivity between forest patches should be established by enriching the native forest cover [biological corridors to ensure food and fodder] that allow species to move and genes to flow from one region to other,” the study adds.
The study also maintains that no new major roads or railway lines should be allowed, except when highly essential and subject to an environmental impact assessment, by imposing strict regulations and social audits, while small-scale tourism should be encouraged by adopting benefit-sharing with local communities, such as homestays and spice farms.