Private Forests: Vital Links for Conservation in Western Ghats
Private forests are found commonly in Maharashtra Western Ghats. Private forests are multifunctional habitats that provide various ecosystem services, sequester carbon and control global warming. They have important biodiversity values. They provide forest produce and several economic benefits to their owners. A study was carried out in five southern districts in Maharashtra Western Ghats under the CEPF project in Western Ghats. These five districts together pass through the Sahyadri-Kokan corridor, which was identified as a high priority area for conservation under the CEPF Ecosystem Profile document for the Western Ghats. The study report can be downloaded at http://indiabiodiversity.org/biodiv/content/projects/project-3222640e-6fc9-4f59-897f-ef0ad20fa300/94.pdf. Some of the study results are given below. The area under private forests in Maharashtra the study area is estimated as 12,043 sq.km. while the area of recorded government forest was about 5,656 sq.km. Of the total area of private forest the area under tree cover is 6,020 sq.km. while the remaining area is scrublands and wasteland. The large extent of private forests underlines their importance. The area of private forests is highest in Ratnagiri District. The area of evergreen private forests is highest in Sindhudurg District. Based on the mapping exercise areas of high priority where there are large blocks of private forest were identified.
Formerly private forests were most often used for shifting cultivation. Uses of private forest include periodic felling for firewood sale, personal firewood, pasture, lopping for raab burning, plantation and shifting cultivation. Purpose of tree cutting was most often commercial sale of firewood. In older cases they had been cut for manufacture of charcoal which was banned in 1985. Tree cutting is mostly carried out by contractors and rarely by the owner himself. The current rotation age was typically 5 to 10 years. Private forest owners generally get very low returns from harvest and sale of the forest. Besides periodic harvesting private forests are also used for pasture and for personal firewood use. Raab is a common practice. These practices cause degradation of the vegetation. Private forests are generally found on hill sides, hill tops and plateaus and rarely in valleys. The vegetation quality is poor in Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur and somewhat better in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg Districts. Soil erosion is common. Threats include sale of land to businessmen, construction of resorts and farm houses, wind mill construction and conversion to plantations of coconut, rubber, banana, pineapple etc.
Supported by: CEPF-ATREE Western Ghats Program