In continuation of our visit to Gondia district of Maharashtra in November 20 (IMPACT OF COMMUNITY TITLES ON WILDLIFE HABITAT AND HUMAN LIVELIHOODS), the focus of the current exploratory field visit in May 2019 was to understand the working of settlements with community titles and those without community titles. This exploratory field visit was conducted in Sadak Arjuni range of Gondia district. While prior research has indicated positive outcomes of community managed forests, several conservationists have argued that communities with forest management rights contribute to habitat degradation. In the light of such competing views, this research is aimed at analyzing the effects of settlements on local forests by communities with titles and communities without titles. Specifically, the focus is to understand the extent of CFR and non-CFR forest areas and to estimate the change in these forests in terms of vegetation, forest canopy density and burned area over the past ten years.
This field visit was guided by two primary objectives:
- To hire 15 interns in the summer in order to conduct a detailed forest mapping exercise in 70 forests in the Gondia district of Maharashtra.
- To understand forest conditions and obtain detailed information about tree species, biophysical conditions, vegetation, etc., found in our sample forests.
Notably, we conducted a study to assess the number of fire incidents and the extent of damage caused thereby in the sample forests in the last few months. The data collected in this study was highly useful to validate secondary data. In all, we covered five forests comprising both CFR and non-CFR forests.
Ground Truthing Vegetation
In order to understand the sample forests’ vegetation, the ISB team along with the local villagers went to these forests and carefully mapped plots of 30 m x 30 m in size. Within every 30 m x 30 m plot, a subplot of 20 m x 20 m was marked, and then five subplots of 5 m x 5 m were marked within it. Such mapping was designed to capture the variation and density of the vegetation within that plot. After selecting the plot, we listed the names of all the trees, saplings and shrubs found in the plot. Along with the names we also recorded the height and diameter at breast height (DBH) for the tree species. This exercise provided a nuanced understanding of our sample forests’ conditions. The ISB secondary team will undertake the validation of the ground level information now obtained with the satellite imagery.
Ground Truthing Fire Incidents
Using secondary data, we extracted information about fire incidents in the last year in our sample forests. As our field work involved visits to these forest locations that witnessed fire incidents, we were able to cross-check the details of these fire incidents such as the cause of fire, area affected, the impact of the incident etc. We learnt that most of the fire incidents were of low intensity and that they mostly spread while harvesting mahua and tendu leaves. While harvesting Mahua, in order to facilitate easy mahua collection, the villagers start a fire on the forest grounds to clear dry leaves and other weeds— strictly in the area around the mahua tree. In the case of tendu, control fires are started to ensure new tendu leaves sprout during the harvest season. In both cases, the fire spread because of the negligence of the community or the tendu contractors. This exercise helped to cross-check the ground level facts with secondary data.
Training of Interns
During this visit, 15 interns were hired for the forest mapping exercise. Over a three-day period, a training workshop on using GPS device was organized to train the interns. This training workshop that included simultaneous classroom and field training was conducted by the technical team of ISB. While classroom training was important to understand the technical aspects involved in handling a GPS machine, field training that served as practice sessions on actual forest mapping helped to achieve hands-on project experience. Both classroom and field training were important to understand the gravity of the data they would collect.
We concluded the training by allotting the 15 interns to 7 teams. Each team was given the list of forests they will have to cover during the next month. Currently, the interns are collecting points and polygon boundaries of the extent of CFR and non-CFR areas; two members from the ISB team are currently monitoring their work and progress. As of now, forest areas of 25 villages out of our total sample villages have been completed and their processing by the secondary team at ISB is in progress.
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