For the first time in 20 years, Gujarat’s tree cover slipped below three percent of the state’s geographic area with the loss of 1,423 square kilometers of green cover in two years between 2018-’19 and 2020 -’21, a drop of more than 20 percent.

Forest officials attribute the loss to the state’s relaxation of felling standards for certain tree species, the continued widening of highways, and the elimination of the invasive gando baval (Prosopis juliflora).

According to the State of India’s Forest Report 2021 recently released by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), the forest cover of Gujarat is 5,489 square kilometers (km²), or only 2.80% of the total geographical area. from the state of 1.96 lakh. km². The tree cover was 6,912 km2 or 3.52% of the total geographical area of ​​Gujarat according to the 2019 FSI report.

A branch of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the FSI is the premier organization in the country tasked with periodically assessing and monitoring the country’s forest resources. It maps the country’s green cover every two years using remote sensing satellites, other data sources and field verification samples.

The FSI report is based on mapping the country’s green coverage using remote sensing satellites from October to December 2019.

Registered or legally protected forest areas as well as parcels of more than one hectare outside registered forest areas but having a tree canopy density of at least 10% are counted as forest cover by the FSI. Tree cover, on the other hand, refers to patches of trees or single trees in patches with a size of 0.10 hectare to one hectare outside forest areas.

Trees outside forests include all trees outside protected forest areas, including plantations along highways, irrigation canals, as well as private land.

This is the first time in two decades that forest cover has fallen below 3%. Tree cover of 2.80% is also the second lowest since 2.06% (4,036 km2) recorded in 2001.

The highest tree cover in the state in recent decades was reported in 2005, when it was estimated at 5.40% (10,586 km2). It remained above 4% in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.

The decrease in tree cover in Gujarat over the past four years goes against the national trend of increasing tree cover. The country’s overall tree cover increased by 729 km2 to 95,748 km2 between 2019 and 2021, the report said. Between 2015 and 2017, tree cover increased by 1,212 km2 to 95,027 km2, according to the data.

“This is a matter of concern and we will seek additional data to identify areas from which the decline is being reported and take corrective action. The decrease could largely be due to the state government exempting 86 species of trees within the scope of the Saurashtra Tree Felling (Imposition of Penalties) Act 1951 in 2016, the legal felling of trees along highways given that a number of highways are being widened and the aggressive removal of gando baval, an invasive species,” a senior forestry official said on condition of anonymity.

In another worrying sign for Gujarat, the area of ​​Moderately Dense Forest (MDF) decreased to 5,032 km² from 5,092 km² in 2017 while that of Open Forest (OF) increased to 9,516 km² from 9,387 km² two years ago, indicating a loss of forest cover. in forest area. “This indicates a degradation of MDF to OF. However, it is difficult to convert OF to MDF or VDF (Very Dense Forest) due to the climate of Saurashtra where there are large tracts of forest,” the officer said.

Cumulatively, the state’s total forest cover increased by 69 km² to 14,926 km², or approximately 7.61% of the state’s total geographic area.