Urban Tamil Nadu minds its forests

April 13th, 2008 - 1:09 pm ICT by admin  

Chennai, April 13 (IANS) The southern state of Tamil Nadu holds two important heritage biospheres, although it is the most urban state in India. The Nilgiris biosphere in western Tamil Nadu, also cradled by the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Kerala, is home to the largest concentration of tigers in one single biosphere in the country, about 366 of the precious 1,400.

The very concept of “conserving an entire biosphere” rose in Tamil Nadu, say experts here.

In an exhaustive study on the man-wildlife conflict, as part of a book, Chief Conservator of Forests V.N. Singh and senior forest department officer A.K. Srivastava have detailed “fragmentation and degradation of habitat, grazing and forest fires” as some of the reasons for such conflict.

While the state’s forest department has been pro-active in putting out forest fires, scientists from the Masinigudi station of the Indian Institute of Science have been advocating that small fires in December-March be allowed to burn, letting the forest regenerate.

The biggest fires occur in April-May, and these need to be minded more carefully, experts say.

“In the last six years, 136 lives were lost due to wildlife attack, mainly elephants”, the study says.

There was just one tiger attack death in 2006-2007, it notes.

Two deaths occurred due to leopard attacks in 2006-07 and 2007-08, showing increasing pressure on leopard habitats.

The man-elephant conflict seems to be reducing, with just 56 elephants dying in 2007 from a high of 81 in 2003.

Three elephants were killed by poachers in 2003, 24 were electrocuted in the last five years, about eight have been run over by trains in this decade.

What makes Tamil Nadu (130,058 sq km) more ecologically sustainable than other states of India?

It has a coastline of over 1,000 km and the unique Gulf of Mannar biosphere, with the densely forested Western Ghats running from Dharmapuri in the north to Tirunelveli at the tip of the subcontinent.

At the same time, 6,500,000 hectares of land is under cultivation, producing six million tonnes of food.

Sixty percent of its 62,405,679 people depend on agriculture and animal rearing, although it is the third most industrialised state, a high-end investment destination showing seven percent growth.

As much as 90 million units of poultry and 30 million cattle are reared here. Noticeably, goat rearing, which goes on in the periphery of forests, has increased considerably in the last few years.

As many as 32 rivers flow through the state.

There are 71 reservoirs and about 40,000 tanks, most under the national river and lake conservation programmes and the watershed programme of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Twenty percent of the land - about 23,000 sq km - is under forest cover and another thousand sq km in Theni district is classified as ‘reserve land’.

Tamil Nadu has an ongoing programme of planting 410 million trees outside natural forests to meet Planning Commission advice to increase its forest cover to 33.3 percent by 2012.

Thirteen districts have protected forests but revenue from forests is as little as Rs.3 billion.

“There is hardly any timber extraction from our forests”, says Singh, adding: “even if we know a tree is dying, we let it decay naturally, rather than remove it.”

Tamil Nadu began keeping records of households, houses and its utility from 1981. By 1991, it had data on how many houses had toilets, what was the cooking energy source.

“These are some of the important necessities which make people living on the edge of the forests and within it, go to the forest and eventually leads to its destruction”, Singh told IANS.

The Tamil Nadu Wild Elephant Preservation Act is of 1873 vintage, The Wild Birds and Animal Protection Act dates from 1912. The Vedanthangal sanctuary was set up in 1936, “much before the national wildlife protection act came in 1972 and long before Project Tiger was envisaged”.

As many as 22 species of mammals, 42 of birds and nine kinds of reptiles found here are listed on Schedule I of the endangered species list.

There are five national parks, eight sanctuaries, 12 bird sanctuaries and one conservation reserve in the state. These include three Project Tiger areas that hold 75 tigers, some 250 leopards and about 4,000 elephants.

To manage so many animals, so much of forest and so many people, Tamil Nadu has now embarked on a programme it calls “landscape management”, saving animals and the forest with the help of the local people.

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