LUCKNOW: Amid criticism from experts over its methodology for mapping forest cover in the country, the Forest Survey of India (FSI) said forest cover is estimated from field inventory data which corroborates the figures obtained from satellite interpretation. He claimed that the criticism of his findings was based on perception and did more to generate sensation.
Sticking to his assessment that shows how forest and tree cover has increased in India over the past two years, bringing total green cover to almost a quarter of the country’s geographical area (GA) in 2021, the FSI explained how it did its biennial survey, based on globally accepted standards, which was supported by an elaborate field verification exercise.
Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav had released the FSI’s “India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021” last week, which shows that “forests” and “trees outside registered forest areas “combined reported an increase of 2,261 km2 (0.3%) last year compared to the previous assessment in 2019. The increase brought overall green coverage to 8,09,537 km2 ( 24.6% of the GA) which includes 7,13,789 km2 of forest cover (21.7% of the GA).
Critics, however, have questioned the FSI’s claim with one, MD Madhusudan, conservationist and co-founder of the Nature Conservation Foundation, even pointing out that the purported gains come largely from ” FSI’s problematic and perverse redefinition of ‘forest’ to include tea gardens, coconut plantations, urban built-up areas, native grasslands destroyed by invasive trees, and even treeless desert scrub”. In his social media post, he said: “There is little evidence to show that India’s natural forest cover has actually increased. In fact, it most likely has decreased.
Calling such remarks “factually incorrect,” the FSI said it conducted an inventory of forests and trees outside forests at adequate sampling points spread across the country. “Forest cover is also estimated from field inventory data which corroborates the forest cover figures obtained from the satellite interpretation. The change polygons are verified on the ground by the FSI as well as the state governments, so only the interpretation is accepted,” he said.

The FSI pointed out that it conducts “wall-to-wall mapping of the country’s forest cover”, using remote sensing-based methodology at two-year intervals, and noted that the points raised by critics were their “perception “.
On the point of criticisms of counting tea gardens and coconut plantations as forest, the FSI pointed to the definition of “forest cover”, used in the ISFR, where it is defined as “all land, plus of 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. This also includes orchards, bamboos, palms, etc.

Referring to this globally accepted definition, the FSI said: “Tea garden areas that meet the above conditions and are captured by the satellite sensor are treated as forest cover, primarily because of the tree cover that exists there. . Depending on the density of the canopy, they are classified into “open forest”, “moderately dense forest” and “very dense forest”.
On the point of criticisms that the ISFR, bizarrely, not only reports forest cover for a new assessment year, but often goes back and changes the forest cover values ​​of previous years, the FSI said: “ The experience gained over the years is useful for better interpretation in successive cycles. Improved data quality, better interpretation, extensive field verification and geographic area corrections have resulted in revised estimates from previous rounds. So whenever we feel we have better data for the previous cycle, the estimates are revised in order to give a true picture of the actual change. »
Many experts have in fact supported FSI’s scientific method of assessment and questioned critics, saying that most of the points raised by them are “rooted in a lack of understanding of the difference between forest cover and tree cover in on the one hand and, and on the other hand, the need for retrospective corrections in assessments necessitated by advances in remote sensing technology which have brought increased accuracy in assessments”.
“Tea plantations were reported under tree canopy (not tree canopy) because most tea plantations have high shade trees to manage the sun on the tea bushes. Wherever these shade trees provide more than 10% cover, they are included in tree cover,” said Promode Kant, a forestry expert and retired Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer.
“Coffee and tea, coconut and agricultural forestry plantations also provide far better ecological services than drylands in addition to providing livelihoods for local people. Nowhere in the report are they mentioned. assimilated to natural forests,” said Bala Prasad, another pensioner. IFS Officer and former Additional Secretary, Panchayati Raj.