No plan to change forest cover definition: Govt

The government said on Friday that there were “no plans”, at present, to change the definition of “forest cover and very dense forest”.

Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Union MoS for Environment, told Rajya Sabha that “the definition of forest cover in the State of India’s Forests Report (ISFR) represents the real picture as depicted.”

The minister was responding to MP Vandana Chavan’s question that “the government is aware that the current definition of ‘forest cover’ in the ISFR does not distinguish between natural forests and plantations, thus providing an incomplete picture of state of forests, whether the ISFR used auxiliary field datasets to define “very dense” forests and also, whether the government planned to change the definition of canopy cover and very dense forests to better reflect the actual forest cover of the country.

The Indian definition of forest has been taken based on three criteria as per the decision of Kyoto Protocol and highly accepted by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Food Organization and Agriculture (FAO) for their reports or communications, the Rajya Sabha has been informed.

The forest can be defined by any country depending on the country’s capabilities and capabilities. The three criteria by which forests are defined include percent canopy cover, minimum stand area, and minimum tree height.

“Forest cover is defined as ‘all land, greater than one hectare in area, with a tree canopy density of more than 10%, regardless of ownership and legal status. These lands are not necessarily a registered forest area. It also includes orchards, bamboo and palm trees,” the minister explained.

Further, the minister said, “In the ISFR-2021 released by the ministry on January 13, 2022, the forest cover figures are divided into ‘inside registered forest area’ and ‘outside registered forest area’. “. These “inland registered forest areas” are mostly natural forests and Forest Department plantations. The forest cover ‘outside the registered forest area’ is composed of mango orchards, coconut plantations, agroforestry block plantations.

“So data on plantations of mango trees etc. are automatically separated as the Forest Survey of India reports figures for ‘outer recorded forest area’ separately,” he added. The interpretation of satellite data for the classification of “very dense forest” (VDF) is also supported by ancillary data such as FSI field inventory data, ground-truthing data and satellite imagery. high resolution, if any, he added.

However, the definition is disputed by environmental researchers like Sharachchandra Lele, a senior environmental policy and governance researcher at Bangalore-based ATREE, a global nonprofit sustainability and conservation advocacy group. “Simply relying on satellite imagery and using state-level tree inventories for the FSI report is unreliable,” according to Kanchi Kohli, senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research. She added:

Natural forests and plantations are two very different things, but satellite imagery equates the two. Problems related to forest survey methodology are not new. They have been raised time and time again, for over a decade.

“The survey should also go beyond simply measuring the area under forest cover to study the quality of forests in India: what are the main types of forests, the area under each and their location,” Lele added.

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