Myths and reality over forests


If you are a chain smoker, heavy drinker, eating only junk food, no exercise, then your health is comparable to that of todays protected ecosystems. Ecologists and conservationists are like those foolish doctors who advise a drastic change in lifestyle for improvement in health. But no action is taken before it is too late. If you believe everything is good in nature, change your attitude: here is the view, I bet, most biologists will share1.

Myth: forests are huge areas protected for the questionable benefit of the conservation of nature.

Reality: 6.5% of the Indian Territory are wildlife reserves, the rest of the forests are production forests, hence meant to produce resources for the industry. Most of the wildlife reserves actually suffer from severe exploitation: overgrazing by cattle, wood harvesting, illegal hunting, illegal trade and export of material. If cattle were prevented from grazing in wildlife reserves, as the dung collection feeds organic agriculture, it is possible that it could induce the collapse of organic agriculture in some regions.

Myth: redistribution of reserved forest land to tribal people helps alleviate poverty.

Reality: it may in some cases. Tribal people need to be compensated when their land has been taken over. However, the land given to tribal households is often sold or leased to investors. Once the land is privatized, the new owner can do whatever he/she wants with it. Significant portions are immediately purchased at very low cost by wealthy persons who vociferously support the redistribution of forest land, having only their economic interest at heart.

Myth: allowing harvest helps the poor.

Reality: the poor rarely harvest for subsistence. Harvested forest products most of the time enter the market, for the more significant benefit of wealthier people. Wood collection for example, is hardly exclusively for the household but for buyers such as restaurants and resorts who therefore illegally acquire heavily subsidized energy.

Myth: natural ecosystems are nature at its best.

Reality: most of the forests are heavily degraded and pristine forests are extremely rare and isolated. Most of the forests seen from the window of a car, from a resort or during a trek have suffered or are suffering huge degradation in the form of harvest, cattle grazing, tourism, fragmentation by road, water pollution and waste. Most forests near villages do not have tree saplings, indicative of lack of forest regeneration. They are invaded by alien plants such as Lantana and Parthenium. Domestic animals such as dogs spread diseases to other carnivores (hyena, jackals, etc.), and livestock such as cattle to wild ungulates.

Conclusion: nature is in a really bad state, our health, economy, enjoyment rest on it. It is not as if we had two planets. Our personal responsibility is to understand what is at stake for us and our children, and act in the right direction. Now.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

1The September 2016 IUCN Congress highlighted both good and bad news for the global environment. Although conservation efforts can save species, the number of imperiled species and habitats is growing daily. Many ecosystems are being eroded and stripped of their most iconic species.