It is no secret that forests are under siege. This is the reality the country’s forests face and it is no different in Telangana. For instance, in 2018, the state lost 1,682 hectares of forest cover due to various reasons. One of the primary reasons is illegal felling of trees for timber as well as for cultivation on encroached forest land, something the government has been dealing with a firm hand. Of the 26,900 odd square kilometres of forest cover in the State, in just a little over 8,000 sq. km, the tree cover is either dense or moderately dense. Though Telanganaku Haritha Haram, the massive tree plantation programme is aimed at increasing green cover in the state to 33 per cent from the 24 per cent, not every sapling planted as part of this exercise goes into increasing forest tree cover or regenerating of degraded forest areas. Of course, the programme itself is laudable for succeeding in encouraging people to plant trees and protect them. It is by no means an easy task to set a goal of planting 230 crore saplings in five years and managing to plant 113.58 crore in the first four. And survival rates are expected to increase this year with responsibilities fixed to ensure 85 per cent survival of all planted saplings.
While there is no doubt of Haritha Haram’s contribution to increasing tree cover in the State, of importance is also protection of existing forests. Admittedly, forest protection is, and has never been, an easy task. Several factors, the sometimes genuine requirements of people living in and around forests, and requirement of land for development projects need accommodation while safeguarding what is left of the forests and wildlife that lives in them. In many ways, the State’s Forest Department has had a successful run in afforestation efforts and in wildlife protection but much more needs to be done. It is at this juncture the latest decision to replicate some of the homegrown best practices, be they those designed for wildlife protection or saving forests, could not have come any sooner. The innovate and implement approach that a recent two-day department officials’ conference decided upon with a call to replicate successful strategies, holds out some hope for the sometimes beleaguered forests of the State. Lessons learnt from barren hill afforestation in Warangal, practices of accountability in forest protection adopted in Mulugu, use of camera traps as well use of M-STRIPES, a specialized mobile application for patrolling in Kawal Tiger Reserve are among those from which the State’s foresters have been asked to draw inspiration from for effective ground level work and these bode well for the future of forests in the State.