Land supports natural vegetation, wildlife, human life, economic activities, transport and communication systems. In India, about 43% of land area is plain, 30% is of mountains and 27% is of plateaus. Land resources are used for many purposes like forests, land not available for cultivation, other uncultivated land, follow lands and net shown area.
We humans along with the other living organisms form a complex web of ecological system in which we are only a part and very much dependent on this system for our own existence. Forests play a key role in the ecological system as they are the primary producers on which all other living beings depend.
Biodiversity or Biological Diversity means inherited variation within species, the variety of species in an area, and the variety of habitat types within a landscape. In other words, it refers to the variety of living organisms. It is an interconnected web in which every organism has a role. Various organisms play different roles of producers, consumers and decomposers. It is on these roles that other organisms, including humans, depend for their existence. The existence of millions of living beings—animals, plants and human beings simultaneously is known as biodiversity.
India is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of its vast range of biological diversity, and has nearly 8 per cent of the total number of species in the world (estimated to be 1.6 million). Flora means the total plant cover or vegetation of a region. Fauna means assemblage of animals of a region.
Categories of Existing Plants and Animal Species
(a) Normal Species: Species whose population is normal for their survival, such as cattle, sal, pine, rodents, etc.
(b) Endangered Species: Species which are in danger of extinction. For example; black buck, crocodile, Indian wild ass, Indian rhino, lion tailed macaque, sangai (brow antler deer in Manipur), etc.
(c) Vulnerable Species: Species whose population has decreased over a period of time and they are in danger of extinction. For example; blue sheep, Asiatic elephant, Gangetic dolphin, etc.
(d) Rare Species: Species which are small in number and in danger of extinction if not been taken care of. For example; brown bear, wild Asiatic buffalo, desert fox and hornbill etc.
(e) Endemic Species: These are species which are only found in some particular areas usually isolated by natural or geographical barriers. Examples of such species are the Andaman teal, Nicobar pigeon, Andaman wild pig etc.
(f) Extinct Species: These are species which have vanished from a local area, region, country, continent or the entire earth. Examples of such species are the Asiatic cheetah, pink head duck.
The forest cover in India is estimated to be 637,293 sq km, which is 19.39% of the total geographical area.
Classification of Forests
(a) Reserved Forest : They are regarded as most valuable as far as the conservation of forest and wildlife resources are concerned Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra have large areas of reserved forests.
(b) Protected Forest : Almost one-third of total forest area is protected forest. This forest land is protected from any further depletion. Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan have a bulk of it under protected forests.
(c) Unclassed Forests : There are other forests and wastelands belonging both government and private individuals and communities. All north eastern states and parts of Gujarat have high percentage of their forests as unclassed forests.
A number of factors are responsible for the depletion of flora and fauna. Some of them are agricultural expansion, enrichment plantation, development project, mining etc.
Three factors which are responsible for large scale deforestation in India are
(a) The greatest damage inflicted on Indian forests was during the colonial period due to the expansion of the railways, agriculture, commercial and scientific forestry and mining.
(b) Agricultural expansion continues to be one of the major causes of depletion of forest resources. Between 1951 and 1980, according to the Forest Survey of India, over 26,200 sq. km. of forest area was converted into agricultural land all over India.
(c) Substantial parts of the tribal belts, especially in the north-eastern and central India, have been deforested or degraded by shifting cultivation (Jhum), a type of ‘slash and burn’ agriculture.
Habitat destruction, hunting, poaching, over-exploitation, environmental pollution, poisoning and forest fires are some of the factors, which have led to the decline in India’s biodiversity.
Afforestation plays a major role in enhancing the quality of environment. It modifies local climate. It influences air temperature and reduces wind force. It helps in controlling soil erosion.
Conservation preserves the ecological diversity and our life support systems—water, air and soil.
It also preserves the genetic diversity of plants and animals for better growth of species and breeding. For example, in agriculture, we are still dependent on traditional crop varieties. Aquatic lives too are heavily dependent on the maintenance of aquatic biodiversity.
We need to conserve our forests and wildlife because
(i) Conservation preserves the ecological diversity and our life support system – air, water and soil.
(ii) Conservation also preserves the genetic diversity of plants and animals for better growth of species and breeding.
(iii) It makes the planet Earth safe.
Steps taken by the government to protect forests and wildlife resources
(i)The Indian Wildlife Protection Act was implemented in 1972 with various provisions for protecting habitats.
(ii)Central and many state governments have established national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Government of India enacted Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 with the objective to control poaching and illegal trade in wildlife. The Act provides for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants by banning hunting, giving legal protection to their habitats, and restricting trade in wildlife. Subsequently, central and many state governments established national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Forests can be classified as reserved forests, protected forests and unclassed forests.
The conservation projects are now focusing on how to increase biodiversity which includes various conservation measures. To execute the same plans, the Wildlife Act of 1980 and 1986 added several hundred butterflies, moths, beetles, and one dragonfly to the list of protected species. In 1991 plants were also added to the list of protection.
The famous Chipko Movement in the Himalayas and Joint Forest Management (JFM) programme offer good examples for involving local communities in the management and restoration of degraded forests.
The Project Tiger was started throughout the world in 1973. The Government of India also took an active part in the Tiger Project to save this important species. About 27 Tiger Reserves in India were erected to save this endangered animal. Important Tiger Reserves such as Corbett National Park in Uttaranchal, Sunderbans National Park in West Bengal, Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan, Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam and Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala were established.
Biosphere Reserves are multipurpose protected areas created to deal with the issues of conservation of biodiversity and its sustainable use.
Forests are very useful for us. We get wood from the forests, raw materials for paper industry, match making and sports material. Gums, resins, turpentine oil etc., are also extracted from the forest products. Besides the above products, the forests yield many other useful products such as herbs, honey etc. They help in controlling soil erosion and providing natural environment for wildlife. They help in enhancing the quantity of rainfall also.