One of the most fascinating Biology Topics is the study of genetics and how traits are passed down through generations.
Why are Forests and Wildlife Important?
Anything in the environment ‘which can be used’ is called a ‘natural resource’. Some of our important natural resources are : Forests and Wildlife, Water, Coal and Petroleum. A system of controlling the use of natural resources in such a way as to avoid their wastage and to use them in the most effective way, is called management of natural resources. The natural resources are a ‘tool’ of development (or advancement) for human beings but it should be ‘sustainable development’. The development which meets the current basic human needs and also preserves the resources for the needs
of future generations, is called sustainable development. And to protect the environment from harm or destruction is said to ‘conserve’ the environment. In this chapter we will describe how to use our natural resources so as to achieve sustainable development as well as to conserve our environment.
Why do We Need to Manage Our Resources
All the things which we use (or consume) such as food, clothes, furniture, fuels, vehicles, water, etc., are obtained from the resources on this earth. We need to manage our natural resources because of the following reasons :
1. The resources of the earth are limited. Because of the rapid increase in human population, the demand for resources is increasing day by day. The proper management can ensure that the natural resources are used judiciously so that they fulfil the needs of present generation and also last for the generations to come.
2. The proper management of natural resources takes into consideration long-term perspective (or view) and prevents their exploitation to the hilt for short-term gains.
3. The proper management can ensure equitable distribution of natural resources so that all the people can benefit from the development of these resources.
4. The proper management will take into consideration the damage caused to the environment during the ‘extraction’ or ‘use’ of the natural resources and find ways and means to minimise this damage. For example, if some forest trees have to be cut for various purposes, then the damage to the environment can be minimised by planting new saplings in place of cut down trees.
A large area of land on which trees and other plants grow naturally is called a forest. And the wild animals (like lion, tiger, elephants, deer, snakes, etc.) and birds which live in a forest, are called wildlife.
The ‘plants’ and ‘animals’ of a forest are called ‘flora’ and ‘fauna’ respectively. Due to the presence of a large number of species (of plants and animals), forests are said to be ‘biodiversity hotspots’. One of the main aim of the management of forests and wildlife is to-conserve the biodiversity which we have inherited. This is because the loss of biodiversity leads to the loss of ecological stability of the forest ecosystem. We will now discuss the various stakeholders in the management of forests and their aspirations.
A person with an interest or concern in something is called a stakeholder. When we consider the management (or conservation) of forests, we find that there are four stakeholders in it. These are :
- The people who live in and around the forest and are dependent to some extent on forest produce (forest products) to lead their life.
- The Forest Department of the Government which owns the forest land and controls the resources from the forest.
- The industrialists who use various forest products for their factories, such as wood for making paper and furniture, and tendu leaves for making bidis, etc.
- The forest and wildlife activists who want to see the forests in their pristine form (original condition).
We will now describe what each of these stakeholder groups needs or gets out of the forests. The people who live in villages around the forests take firewood (fuel) from the forest trees. They usually lop (cut) the branches of the trees and pluck their leaves but do not cut down the whole trees. They take
bamboo from the forest to make their huts and baskets for collecting and storing food materials. The local people take wood for making agricultural implements and gather fruits, nuts and medicinal herbs from the forest. They also collect green fodder and graze their cattle in the forest.
On the whole, people living near the forests usually use the resources of the forests in a way that much damage is not done to the environment. In fact, the people living near forests had developed practices to ensure that the forest resources were used in a sustainable manner. So, the damage caused to forests cannot be attributed to only the local people living around the forests.
The Forest Department has a major stake in the resources of forests and wildlife because it is a good source of revenue for the Government. Most of the forest revenue comes from the sale of cut down forest trees for timber (which is wood used in buildings and furniture). In order to plant trees for timber such as pine, teak, and eucalyptus, etc., huge areas of forests are cleared of all vegetation.
This destoys a large amount of biodiversity in the area which harms the environment. The management of protected forest areas by keeping the local people out completely has some ill effects too. This will become clear from the following example. The great Himalayan National Park is a protected forest area which contains alpine meadows that were earlier grazed by outside sheep in summer.
So, nomadic shepherds (having no permanent home) drove their flock of sheep up from the valley to this area every summer. After the formation of Himalayan National Park, the grazing by sheep was not allowed. This has a harmful effect on the growth of vegetation because, without regular grazing by sheep, the grass first grows very tall and then falls over, preventing fresh growth from below.
The developmental projects like building roads through the forest area and construction of dams are also damaging the forests. Even the large inflow of tourists to the forests for observing wildlife, building rest-houses for tourists within the forest and dumping of waste materials (like plastic bottles, etc.) by the tourists in the forest, are damaging the forest environment.
Industrialists have a major vested interest in forest resources. They consider the forests as merely a source of raw material for their industry (or factories). Some of the major industries which are based on
forest produce are : Timber industry, Paper manufacturing industry (or Paper mills), Lac industry and Sports equipment industry. In fact, most of the deforestation is caused by industrial needs. It is true that wood from the forest trees is .needed for manufacturing various types of goods required for development but at the same time efforts should be made to make up the loss of trees cut down from the forest.
This can be done by planting saplings in the forest in place of cut down trees. It should be noted that the destruction of forests affects not just the availability of forest products but also the quality of soil and the sources of water.
A major programme called silviculture has been started to replenish the forests by growing more trees and plants. Thus, silviculture is a major programme started to replenish depleting forests. The silviculture programme has many advantages :
- It produces a large quantity of raw materials for industry (like timber and paper industry)
- It increases the area of earth under forests (which is good for the conservation of wildlife)
- It maintains a perfect water cycle in nature
- It prevents soil erosion
- It prevents floods
There are certain people (called activists) who are not dependent on the forests (or wildlife) in any way but who want forests and wildlife to be conserved to prevent undue damage to the environment.
They started by working for the conservation of large wild animals such as tigers, lions, elephants, and rhinoceros but they now recognise the need to preserve forests as well. This is because without preserving forests, we cannot conserve wildlife (wild animals and birds). We will now give two instances where ordinary people have played a great role in the conservation of forests by preventing them from being cut down indiscriminately.
(i) The Case of Khejri Trees
There is a Bishnoi community in Rajasthan state of our country for whom conservation of forests and wildlife has been a religious belief. In 1731, Amrita Devi Bishnoi led a group of 363 persons who sacrificed their lives for the protection of khejri trees in khejrali village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan. This shows the determination of some people to work for the conservation of their natural environment. The Government has recently instituted an ‘Amrita Devi Bishnoi National Award for Wildlife Conservation’ in the memory of Amrita Devi Bishnoi.
(ii) The Chipko Andolan
Another example of the contribution of common people towards the conservation of forests is the Chipko Andolan (Hug the Trees Movement). The Chipko Andolan originated from an incident in a remote village called ‘Reni’ in Garhwal, high up in the Himalayas in the early 1970s. A logging contractor had been allowed to cut down trees in a forest close to a village. The people of the village did not want this forest to be cut down because it would have spoiled their healthy environment.
One day, when the men folk of the village were out for work, the contractor’s workers came in the forest to cut down the trees. In the absence of men, the women of the village reached the forest quickly and clasped the tree trunks with their arms, preventing the workers from cutting down the trees. The forest trees were thus saved. The Chipko Movement quickly spread across all the communities and helped in the conservation of forests.
Participation of Local People in the Management of Forests
People’s participation in the management of forests can help in increasing forest produce as well as in their conservation. An example of how local people’s participation in the management of forests led to the revival of degraded forests is like this : In 1972, the West Bengal Forest Department formulated a novel scheme to revive the degraded sal forests by involving the local people.
A beginning was made in the Arabari forest range of Midnapore district. A far-sighted forest officer A.K. Banerjee involved the villagers of the area around the forest in the protection of 1272 hectares of badly degraded sal forest.
In return for help in protecting the forest, the villagers were given employment in both silviculture and harvesting operations of the forest, 25 percent of the final harvest produce, and were allowed to collect firewood and fodder from the forest area on a nominal payment. With the active and willing participation of local people living around the forest, the degraded sal forest of Arabari became thick and green within ten years. This is how participation of local people can lead to efficient management of forests.
Conservation of Wildlife
The large scale poaching (killing) of wild animals residing in the forests by man is a serious threat to the survival of many animal and bird species. This also disturbs the food chains in which these animals occur resulting in undesirable consequences for the whole ecosystem. This point will become more clear from the following example. Snake is a wild animal. The skin of snakes is in great demand for making fancy leather goods, so the snake skin sells at a high price in the market.
Now, to make some easy money, some people kill the snakes indiscriminately in large numbers to obtain their skin. This large scale killing of snakes disrupts the food chains in which snakes occur and creates an imbalance in nature.
For example, snake is a friend of the farmer in the sense that it eats vermins like rats and mice .which are pests and damage the crops. Now, when the snakes are killed in large numbers to obtain their skin, the population of snakes is reduced greatly. Now, due to the lesser number of ‘predator’ snakes, the population of pests like rats and mice in crop-fields increases. The increased number of rats and mice in the fields damages the
standing crops leading to loss in the production of food-grains.
It is very important to conserve wildlife to maintain the ecological balance in nature and to preserve the gene pool. Some of the measures (or steps) to be taken for the conservation of wildlife are given below :
1. Laws should be made to impose a total ban on poaching (killing) or capturing of any animal or bird belonging to an endangered species. The poaching of an endangered species of animals and birds should be made a punishable offence. Such laws should not remain on paper only, they should be enforced strictly.
2. Even if some type of wild animals and birds are in abundance today, their indiscriminate killing should not be allowed by the forest authorities.
3. The natural habitats of wild animals and birds should be preserved by establishing National Parks and Sanctuaries throughout the country.
4. The Government Department connected with the conservation of wildlife should conduct a periodic survey in all the forests, National Parks and Sanctuaries to have a knowledge of the population of all species of wild animals and birds, so that these animals can be helped in the times of distress like floods and famines.
5. Special attention should be paid to the conservation of endangered species of wild animals and birds to prevent their extinction altogether.
6. The unauthorised felling (cutting) of forest trees for timber trade and fuel-wood should be curbed (stopped) immediately. This is because depletion of forests destroys the natural habitat of wild animals and birds, and exposes them to the cruelty of man as well as nature.
7. In the case of Government authorised felling of forest trees, for every acre of forest cut down, an equal area of land should be planted with saplings of trees to make up for the loss in the long run.