Assessment of Forest Degradation

The statistics on forest fire damage are very poor in the country. In the absence of proper data, it is difficult to arrive at the accurate losses from the forest fires. Moreover, the losses from fires in respect of changes in biodiversity, carbon sequestration capability, soil moisture and nutrient losses etc are very significant from the point of view of ecological stability and environmental conservation. To a certain extent, the loss due to forest fires can be estimated based on the inventories made by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) as reported in the state of forest report 1995 and subsequent field observations conducted by them. The statistics of losses from forest fires from the various states of the union is still very sketchy and fragmented. Much of the data available does not reflect the ground situation and is grossly under reported. The total reported loss from the states of the union is around US$ 7.5 million annually.

The Forest Survey of India data indicate 50% of the forest areas as fire prone. This does not mean that country's 50% area is affected by fires annually. Very heavy, heavy and frequent forest fire damage are noticed only over 0.8%, 0.14% and 5.16% of the forest areas respectively. Thus, only 6.17% of the forests are prone to severe fire damage. In absolute terms, out of the 63 million ha of forests an area of around 3.73 million ha can be presumed to be affected by fires annually. At this level the annual losses from forest fires in India for the entire country can be moderately estimated at US$ 107 million. This estimate does not include the loss suffered in the form of loss of biodiversity, nutrient and soil moisture and other intangible benefits. Based on the UNDP project evaluation report of 1987, if 40 million ha of forests are saved annually from forest fires due to implementation of modern forest fire control methods, the net amount saved at todays' prices would come to be US$ 6.8 million.

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