India — If the Uttarakhand government has its way, lakhs of chir pine trees will be cut down in the name of curbing forest fires that have become rampant of late. Foresters in the hill state say chir, a variety of pine widespread in the lower Himalayas, is mainly responsible for the infernos and add that the tree is not good for biodiversity .
The Dehradun-based Forest Research Institute (FRI) has now been asked to conduct a study on the ecological impact of these trees even as the state forest department has readied a proposal to be sent to the Union environ ment ministry seeking removal of these trees “wherever they are in large numbers”.
Once the Union ministry approves this proposal, it will need to be sent to the Supreme Court for final clearance. To remove any trees that are not dry or dead within reserve forests, permission is needed from the apex court. Permission is also needed to cut trees that are above an altitude of 1,000 metres.
Forest officers gave a figure of “lakhs of chir trees” that would have to be brought down. A few months ago, a proposal was put forward for removing 300 chir trees as a start. No action has been taken on that request.
Environmentalists have, however, advised caution, with some activists warning that the project had the potential for gross misuse. The Forest Survey of In dia has found that chir has taken over 16% of the total 71% forest area of Uttarakhand. That would mean chir trees are running in tens of thousands. Chir is widespread in forest divisions of Tehri, Pauri, Champawat, Almora, Bagheshwar and Pithoragarh.
Principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) S K Chandola told TOI, “Just lopping off 300 chirs would not serve the purpose. The species has spread all over our forests and is damaging our ecology .We plan to cut to the stump, so it does not regrow. We have got ready a proposal which we will send to the Union ministry for approval.”
Chir resin offers the state revenue of about Rs 70 crore a year. Even so, Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat has been categorical in directing foresters to do away with chir plantations and replace these with the slow-growing oak species.