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Forests

The forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of trees that have formed a buffer for the earth to protect life forms. The trees which make up the main area of the forest creates a special environment which, in turn, affects the kinds of animals and plants that can exist in the forest.

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) has defined forest as land with tree crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10% and area of more than 0.5 hectare. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 m at maturity in situ. In the tropical and subtropical region, forests are further subdivided into plantations and natural forests. Natural forests are forests composed of indigenous trees, not deliberately planted. Plantations are forest stands established by planting or/and seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation. There are about 16 major types of forests in India from the tropical type to the dry type.

Forests can develop wherever there is an average temperature greater than about 10 C in the warmest month and an annual rainfall in excess of about 200 mm annually. In any area having conditions above this range there exists an infinite variety of tree species grouped into a number of stable forest types that are determined by the specific conditions of the environment there. Forests can be broadly classified into many types, some of which are the Taiga type (consisting of pines, spruce, etc.) the mixed temperate forests with both coniferous and deciduous trees, the temperate forests, the sub tropical forests, the tropical forests, and the equatorial rainforests.

In India it is believed that organized exploitation of forest wealth began with an increase in hunting. Ashoka the Great is said to have set up the first sanctuary to protect the forests and all life in it. The Mughal rulers were avid hunters and spent a great deal of time in the forests.

It was during the British rule that the first practical move towards conservation in modern times took place. They established ‘reserved forest’ blocks with hunting by permit only. Though there were other motives behind their move, it at least served the purpose of classification of and control over the forests.

Soon after independence, rapid development and progress saw large forest tracts fragmented by roads, canals, and townships. There was an increase in the exploitation of forest wealth. It was only in the 1970s that the importance of conservation of forests was realized and the preservation of India’s remaining forests and wildlife was given a front seat.

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