This section describes forestry in Pakistan. It includes discussions on forest management, different forest types, and threats to Pakistan’s forests, and steps that have been taken, or are still needed to protect forests.
Evolution of Forest Management in Pakistan8
Before the British came to the subcontinent, the natural resource base was so vast that there was little need for forest science9. However, it was soon realised in the third quarter of the 19th century, that unless forests were protected and managed properly, they would soon diminish. In this regard, German forest scientists like Brandis and Schlich were engaged for the scientific management of forest resources.
Accordingly, silvicultural systems for all forest types were developed with clear management objectives. To fulfil the fuel wood requirements of the railways, irrigated plantations like Changa Manga were established. It was due to the hard work of the pioneer foresters of the sub-continent who selected the right species from amongst the Indian trees and standardized the irrigation system that the foresdt related needs of the communities were accomplished. After independence (1947), some useful irrigated plantations based on the old English system were developed. In fact, a century of management (started in the end of the 19th century) in the hill forests has resulted in forests being exactly as desired by the management system. Resultantly there are hardly any primary forests left. Forests in Pakistan have the potential of being the harbingers of ecosystem diversity. Most of the landscape of the country has been modified. Living space for the components of forest biodiversity and for the natural processes of succession is only available in the areas declared as reserves under the Forest Act of 1927.
The effects on nature by forest management in all the ecosystem types of Pakistan, as well as the dynamics of the effects of the delicate ecosystems to human interference is discussed in the following section.
Forest Management in Practice
The major objectives of the forest management practices in Pakistan are based on the sustainable yield of timber and firewood rather than on sustainable forestry. Sustainable forestry as perceived by foresters is restricted to the principle that the annual wood harvested from a given forest must not exceed the annual growth gained through photosynthesis. It is also limited to the species that have good commercial value and does not consider the ecosystem as a whole. On the other hand management of the system as a whole is the hallmark of the concept of sustainable forestry. This includes iforest fauna and micro-organisms. The problems and challenges today are related to the shortage of timber, firewood, grazing lands and competition from other land uses. The focus of forest management remains to manipulate nature by retaining those species that are preferred by foresters. Economic considerations are of prime concern. In other situations, exotic or non-endemic species are being heavily planted outside their natural zones. Working plans regulate Forest management. All such plans consider Biodiversity preservation, climatic issues and the provision of habitat to the fauna. A critical look into these issues reveals that forestry management practices are not employed as constructively as is necessary. Though Pakistan is a member of intergovernmental panels like the UNFF (United Nations Forum on forests) yet lot has to be done in making efforts to streamline forest management in accordance with the voluntary provisions of the UNFF. A brief overview of the management of various forest types keeping in view the various articles of the CBD and related conventions is discussed below.
The primary natural forests were subjected to management under various silvicultural systems, including the selection and shelter wood system. The selection system has been applied to all conifer forests, except Chir pine, where the shelter wood system was applied. In the selection system, trees of exploitable diameter are marked for commercial harvesting, while in the shelter wood system felling is carried out by dividing the whole area into periodic blocks and leaving a few seed bearers as mother trees. Rotations for each periodic block were fixed so that a sustainable yield of timber was obtained regularly. The system worked well in the initial stages of the century. Consequently, modified normal forests were created. The rotation period was reduced as the demand for timber increased thus the condition of the forests began to deteriorate in the end of the 20th century.
The history of the management plans of riverine forests goes back to almost 50 years. These plans are designed to convert the primary obhan (Populus euphratica) forest into irrigated plantations of shisham. Neither the need of the local people, nor the feed and habitat requirements of the wild animals that were dependent on these riverine ecosystems have been considered in these management plans. Initially, success was achieved in raising valuable shisham and kiker, but this system demands expensive input like weeding and irrigation. Huge development works such as flood control engineering structures and water reservoirs were constructed. Therefore, these riverine forests are not receiving the vital flushing floods necessary to sustain them. Installing diesel-operated pumps was considered a solution as opposed to bringing the management plans in harmony with nature and the demands of the local peoples. This artificial irrigation technique is not giving the desired results. Particular reference is given to Ghazi Ghat Forest near the famous Ghazi Ghat Bridge. Foresters have not come up with any viable technique to regenerate shisham after the felling of the mature crop in areas that no longer receives floodwater. Irrigation engineers have blocked the creeks of the mighty Indus and not a single drop of floodwater now reaches this forest. A similar situation exists in almost all the riverine forests in the country. Obhan (Populus euphratica) was the traditional tree of the primary riverine system in Pakistan. This is of tremendous economic value to traditional artisans. The lacquered traditional furniture made of obhan not only has local market value, but also has export potential.
The British preserved large tracts of natural primary forest in the shape of reserved forests. Legal cover to this preservation was given under the Forest Act of 1927. The main objective that led the British to take major steps for forest conservation was to supply fuel wood to the newly created railways and to supply timber to the British Empire. Surprisingly, British legislation especially the Forestry Act, 1927 is the main legal instrument that has helped preserve the natural forests. Ironically, this act is the main target of criticism of environmental NGOs and other decision-makers. However, this act has helped in retaining a major portion of these forests in almost pristine condition. Management practices were subsequently developed to conserve the Acacia modesta and Olea ferrugnea forests. The only change that post-independence foresters have made is that exotic species like eucalyptus are being widely planted. Minerals like coal, bentonite, fire clay and silica sand etc are abundantly available in the forest reserves. These forests are now under threat from mining leases. No definite legal cover is available to minimise the impacts from mining. Fragmentation due to the large-scale construction of roads, etc. is another threat. There is a need to devise strategies to deal with these issues. The rights of grazing and grass cutting also need to be rationed. This is due to the increase in the human and livestock populations (for details see Land rights in the Scrub Forests of the Salt Range in Chapter 12 of this report). These forests are not greatly damaged by the livestock of the local residents, but by the nomadic Bakarwals11, the regular winter visitors with their large goatherds. These goats browse Acacia trees and are the single largest threat to them. The forest department traditionally used to issue grazing permits to the Bakarwals on a heavy fee. A ban on their entry in the districts having scrub forests has been imposed since the late 1980s. This has been done because they cause damage to trees. The forest department doeas not have any control on their entry in the private lands adjoining the state forests. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they do find ways to enter the districts and ultimately the forests. A rational strategy needs to be evolved in consultation with these grazers to meet their requirements as well as the objectives of forest conservation.
The British rulers raised the original irrigated plantations in the 19th century with the objective of producing fuel for the railways and the steamships sailing the Indus River. After independence, large tracts of land were set aside for plantations in the arid areas. These plantations were raised alongside the development of new barrages and dams. It appears that the purpose of the authorities setting aside these lands was the creation of windbreaks and lowering the subsoil water table. Plantations raised (especially in the Thall area) were a replication of the techniques developed by the British for the initial plantations meant for the supply of wood to the railways. Initially, good results were obtained when the agricultural lands were not developed and abundant water was available for the plantations. The dilemma is that adequate water is no longer available. Moreover, in areas where water logging starts, the plantation trees are the first to die. Shorkot Plantation is a classic example of this. However, biological reclamation has become possible by the introduction of eucalyptus. The role of the irrigated plantations for carbon sequestration, Biodiversity conservation and commercial purposes needs to be ascertained. There is a need to develop strategies for the irrigated plantations to cater to the emerging challenges of the 21st century. Irrigated plantations can play a big role in Biodiversity conservation by meeting the demands for timber and firewood; thus protecting fragile and threatened ecosystems.
Good linear plantations were raised, especially in the post-independence period, alongside roads and canals. The objectives of these plantations were amenity, the creation of shelterbelts, and sand dune stabilisation. With no fixed period of crop rotation, there are still many old growth trees, which the foresters term as mature and over mature crop. In every forest division, the emphasis is on removal of the old, dead and dry trees. Old trees are now almost non-existent in the country. This is due to shorter rotation periods in the irrigated plantations and the high prices of timber that lure farmers to sell trees earlier. Many birds roost and nest in the old, dead and dry trees, especially in the canal sides. Those birds that have not adapted to urbanisation are likely to become extinct. Due to scarcity of land, the linear plantations provide an ideal site to plant local species. There is a need to promote activities that can provide livelihoods to the local people without cutting of trees.
4.2.6 Farm Forestry
Farm forestry and agro-forestry practices are popular in the country. However, the objective of farm forestry should be the mitigation of pressure on the natural forests rather than replacing forestry with farm forestry. The concerns of the articles of the CBD have not been incorporated in farm forestry projects and plans as highlighted in the case study of the farm forestry project in the Punjab (refer to Box 3). Local trees, especially those that can be used, need to be promoted instead of eucalyptus.