Plight of Fir Forests in Kashmir
Farooq Ahmad Mir (Trali)
Fir (Budloo, Abies Pindrow), one of the four important timber yielding conifer species in Jammu and Kashmir, exists at the highest altitude amongst them, the other three being Kail, Deodar and Chir. Fir timber forms 70% of the saleable stocks in our concessional Timber Sale Depots (T.S.Ds) at present. Spruce (Picea smithiana) is a close associate of Fir.
Fir occupies the area close to tree line wherefrom the alpine and sub-alpine pasture lands called margs begin to appear. Also the Bhojpatre, Burja (Betula utilis), the endangered species, but not extinct as yet can be found along with Fir in this altitudinal zone. Fir plays an important role in beautifying the paradise on earth (Kashmir). Fir is itself a majestic tree with a tall stature and beautiful, dense drooping foliage.
Our Fir Forests face some grave problems and are undergoing, so to say struggle for existence. Major Fir forests being very close and adjacent to high altitude grazing areas (Margs) are subject to the bad effects of unrestricted and uncontrolled grazing and trespassing by nomadic as well as local livestock.
Overgrazing and cattle trespassing generally affects all the forest areas but its effect is marked in Fir Forests. Generally our Fir Forests are deficit in respect of Seed bearers and there is always a lack of natural seed production and dispersal in such areas. Furthermore seed germination and its establishment has become challenging in these areas. Once the seed is germinated or about to germinate or is about to enter the seedling stage, it is trampled upon or sometimes eaten up by a grazing animal who reaches there just at the onset of the grazing season.
The result is that even a single sapling of Fir cannot be seen for miles together thus creating a serious lack of natural regeneration. A forest without natural regeneration is a nation without progeny (children) and has a dark future.
Fir Forests have nowadays developed open canopy of low density thereby giving rise to accelerated soil erosion. Combined with heavy cattle trespassing and overgrazing, soil degradation is going on at a higher rate in Fir forests. Fir areas being at high altitudinal zone as compared to Kail and Deodar, experience heavy precipitation in the form of snow, going upto 10-15 ft, sometimes.
Therefore, heavy snowfall damages occur to Fir trees due to shallow root system and dense foliage. The high pasture land graziers like Bakerwaals , Pahlus , Banyaries etc. who temporarily camp in these areas for 3-4 months in summer , usually use firewood from nearby Fir forests damaging sometimes even Fir trees and fell or lop them excessively for construction of temporary Kothas. This adds for further deterioration of Fir Forests.
This whole situation has brought our Fir forests close to degradation. The status of some low lying Fir forests may be better but overall situation is not satisfactory. All the stakeholders particularly the Forest Department has to take stock of the issue by taking all such deteriorated areas under ongoing afforestation schemes particularly in CAMPA in letter and spirit, to rehabilitate them on long term basis. Adequate plant production Nurseries of Fir Plants need to be established along with other associated species.
Further the field staff of forest at beat and block levels need to be gear up with the direction to proper vigil/patrolling of Fir forests particularly in the summer months from June to September, because usually the field staff perform patrolling of low lying areas more punctually and sometimes ignore the Fir forests in higher reaches. Local and nomadic graziers who take millions of livestock to the high pasture lands should not be allowed to camp within or near to Fir forests.
Agrostology wing of the Forest Department which has also got a mandate for high pasture land conservation, should undertake extra-steps to manage the situation. We all should join hands to restore the vanishing beauty and health of our Fir forests, which are one of the most invaluable assets of our valley.
(The author is a Range Officer)