Plant deodars, save Shimla

Shimla owes its beauty to the deodar trees planted 140 years ago. The pace of
development has reduced the forest cover and resulted in changes in the soil strata
and water regime. We need to plant deodar trees on a large scale to preserve
the pristine glory of the queen of hills, writes Harsh Mitter

THE TRIBUNE ON SUNDAY 2 AUGUST 2009

WE have come of age. We try to develop and strive for a better living. In the rat race, our ethical values and strengths are lost as unimportant, not conforming to our objective of making a quick buck. Hence, we are no further concerned about the environment we are living in. When sparrows left our homes in the plains below, we did not even notice. When the species reduced in Shimla, people did not know. Good riddance from their chirping or stubborn behaviour to nest in verandahs. May be concrete has replaced the wooden beams and arches.

The excessive cutting of trees for roads and other construction purposes in Shimla has led to a situation where the soil is unable to hold the moisture for longer periods

Trees should be planted in all vacant areas
The excessive cutting of trees for roads and other construction purposes in Shimla has led to a situation where the soil is unable to hold the moisture for longer periods. Trees should be planted in all vacant areas Photos: Amit Bhardwaj

Many of us argue, “but it will save wood`85” without even realising what that means. Having said that, I do not mean that jungles be wiped out of existence. I will make an attempt to explain. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, owing to enhanced human activity, an effort for better living where “better” is still unqualified. Who is more competent to define better in this context than contemporary society?

The easiest and simplest way of reducing carbon dioxide from atmosphere is to plant more trees, shrubs and herbs. The green colour or chlorophyll will fix carbon dioxide into sugars, which will ultimately get converted into wood. The yield of sugar will be high in direct sunrays and reduce with the reduced intensity. The consumptive plants and their parts will put the carbon back into the cyclic process and may sooner or later again get released into atmosphere. The wood formed, if left to nature, deteriorates or burns, will again release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

However, if the wood cut is preserved for a fairly long period, and the area is again planted with high wood-yielding species, the carbon fixed is not released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. This will reduce the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere. Having accepted the above, the question arises how to maximise carbon dioxide fixation per unit area when the limiting factors are chlorophyll amount and intensity of light. We cannot do much about the intensity of sunlight but chlorophyll can be greatly enhanced in a multi-storey forest. The taller the trees, more could be the yield of wood.

The efficiency of a living system (in the form of linear growth) operates in a typical growth curve, which keeps on increasing to a maximum. This leads to an increase in the length of trees. The maximum length attained in a year is called current annual increment (CAI). This keeps on increasing year after year, and after a maximum, starts reducing. The mean annual increment (MAI) for all years is more than the decreasing CAI for the last year. It is time when the tree has sufficiently reduced fixing of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and it also is time to harvest and use its timber.

In deodar trees, when the terminal growth ceases, they sort of flatten off from the top—called in common parlance as “Table Top.” The majority crop of deodar in and around Shimla is at this stage. This queen of hill stations owes its beauty to these natural and man-made deodar trees planted some 120 to 140 years back. The pace of development in and around these forests has resulted in changes in the soil strata, water regime and consequentially ground flora under these forests. Most of these trees are heading towards their end. We need to plant trees on every opening created by the falling of a tree during rains, or landslides, or for any other reason. The vacant area has to be filled up with nothing but deodar trees, irrespective of the fact whether the tree was standing on government, municipality or private land. We, the residents of Shimla and dwellers of Shimla hills, must understand it as our responsibility to preserve this queen of hills for ourselves and for our posterity.

The excessive cutting of trees for roads and other construction purposes in Shimla has led to a situation where the soil is unable to hold the moisture for longer periods. The 2008 winter did not bring sufficient precipitation. As a result of a long dry spell after the monsoon of 2008, when the temperature again started rising in February, 2009, deodars showed signs of water stress. The oozing out of sugary substance resulted in increase in aphid population. Fortunately, the situation reversed with the first spell of rains in March, 2009. Fire does a lot of harm to the forests. It not only burns the fallen needles but also wipes out a range of ground floral species of grasses, herbs and shrubs. Eggs of birds, toads, lizards and snakes and young ones of many animal species get roasted. The Forest Department is maintaining the jungles for the people. A few handful of staff members cannot extinguish fires until and unless people join hands with the forest staff.

I appeal to you not to put jungles on fire, and help the department fight fires. This will greatly help check global warming due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Forest fires add a substantial quantity of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The resultant Green House impact leads to global warming. To check this, it is important that tall coniferous forests of fir are raised so that coolness is maintained at the soil surface level. This will also help to prevent soil erosion.

Let us not leave the responsibility of maintaining these forests and the resultant beauty of this hill station alone on the shoulders of the Forest Department, but join hands and plant deodar trees in our vicinity.

— The writer is Chief Conservator of Forests (Eco tourism), Khalini, Shimla

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