Lost trees, landslides and skewed data: Deforestation in Udupi and the Western Ghats3 min read
The famous Udupi-based poet Gopalkrishna Adiga once said, “There is tree, there is gold.” Today, in the Udupi district, the threat and effects of deforestation hang gloomily in the air. Between the burning sun and intermittent rain of Manipal, one can find burnt patches of forests and injured but surviving peacocks and monkeys who cross the forest area seeking refuge.
Last year, for nearly eight months, a patch of forest near End Point, Manipal, was continually razed during the nights. Today, an empty patch stands in its place filled with weeds and electric towers. Through the years, there has been a considerable rise in urbanisation, particularly in Manipal. As the number of apartment complexes increases, one can see the effects on the city’s environment − landslides, unseasonal rains and unbearable heat.
Data about the state of forests in Udupi is virtually non-existent or unreliable. The annual reports of 2014-15 and 2017-18 released by the Forest Department, Government of Karnataka, shows inconclusive data with regards to the percentage of forest area with respect to the geographical area.
Despite repeated requests, there was no comment available from the Karnataka Forest Department.
Conversely, according to the Global Forest Watch − an online platform that monitors, manages and calls out deforestation and unsustainable activities − the Udupi district has lost 3.29 Kha (32.9 square kilometres) of tree cover and the Dakshina Kannada district has lost 3.98 Kha (39.8 square kilometres) of tree cover between 2014 and 2018. Data shows that since 2001, the two districts — Dakshina Kannada and Udupi — lost more than 14,400 ha of tree cover.
Of a total 3000 hectares of primary forests lost in Karnataka between 2016 and 2018, the maximum decline was seen in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. In the Dakshina Kannada, the figures for the lost tree cover was 1,109 ha in 2016, 955 ha in 2017 and 1072 ha in 2018. In Udupi, the corresponding figures were 740 ha, 857 ha and 665 ha respectively.
Speaking of forest loss, particularly in the context of loss of grasslands in the Western Ghats, Senani Hegde, an award-winning wildlife photographer commonly associated with the Krupakar-Senani duo said, “If you investigate, in the last thirty to forty years, we have damaged our grasslands very badly. There can be many causes. It could be fire, invasive species or just clearing it out for some other purposes. The top management and others consider these grasslands as wastelands because there are no dense plants there. So, people assume that these can be removed and used. But given that the Western Ghats have a very fragile soil surface, which has accumulated over a period of millions of years and is held tight by the grasslands; once we start damaging it, the percolating capacity of the water reduces.”
Senani went on to analogise climate change as a rock standing on a cliff. If many people are trying to push the rock over, it only takes one little force to make the rock fall over. He compared our current state, the climate change we are experiencing, to the rock is standing on the cliff. He believes that it takes little to cause enormous damage. To the Udupi and Dakshina Kannada district, this little force could very well be the indiscriminate felling of tree cover.
The loss of tree cover in these regions of Karnataka is of concern. The lack of official numbers and the damage of tree cover points to a bigger trend of deforestation in the Western Ghats present in Karnataka. This alarming loss of tree cover in this region, considered to be a global biodiversity hotspot, can inflict permanent damage on the area, including rising temperatures, poor rainfall, drying up of rivers and severe drought. Alarmingly, these phenomena are already seen in various measures, and will only continue if this compromise for development continues.
Featured Image Courtesy: Banani Mandal
Edited by: Rayna Lele