Afforestation Mistakes #2 Revenue Forestry Of ChirPine

Are there different types of forests ? Yes forests can be broadly classified into two types – one where commercially useful trees are planted like a forest by man and other is a natural forest . The first one is called forst and second one wald in German respectively. This shows that men knew the difference between them from a long time and probably their ecological impact. Unfortunately we didn’t know that when British established “Imperial Forest Service in 1866” which turned our walds in to forsts. As we were agricultural and raw product outpost our forests too were made to be commercially useful. One such disaster was replecing himalayan forests for timber plantations. Pine was a favorite of planters as it is hardy, and can grow in any kind of soil. Due to multiple ways of revenue generation pine became the livelihood of the people of Himalayan foothills since British introduced it. They used it for wood and resin but the practise continued after independence without any scientific planned study.

Chirpine, scientifically known as Pinus roxburghii, is a conifer that covers about 16 per cent of the forest area in Uttarakhand. It’s also extensively planted in Himachal Pradesh. Remember the Shimla water crisis last year?

How chirpine controls the livelihood ?

Chirpine is used for timber, fuel wood, torch wood, funeral wood and furniture while its leaves are used for bedding for cattle in cold weather and mulching.

Bark of pine tree is used for getting coal, tar and resin. It is also used extensively for domestic needs of the region.

Collecting resin has become main occupation and special resin depots have been established for its collection storage and processing. This oleoresin yields two industrially important products—turpentine oil (about 70 per cent), and rosin (about 17 per cent). Rosin is extensively used in soap, paper, paints and varnishes, pinoleums, sealing waxes, oil cloth, inks and disinfectants. Turpentine is used in paints and varnishes, polishes, as a fat dissolving substance and for domestic purposes. Pine cones are useful for handicraft industry. With this kind of revenue generation almost all types of livelihoods slowly changed to pine dependent and number of such plantations increased while broadleaf trees like walnut decreased . The cost of this was clearly visible in videos of houses falling like pack of cards in UttarKhand floods or satelite images of massive forest fires there in recent times.

Aforrestation doesn’t mean that one can plant any tree in the place of original species’ of that area. It’s a very common thought that since we now have a clean land lets plant something which will bring in some revenue too. Planting pine in Himalayan foot hills was a great afforestation mistake. It was predicted by disciple of Mahatama Gandhi ‘Mira Ben’ in an essay in 1952- titled “Something wrong in the Himalaya”, about the ‘deadly changeover’ from banj (Himalayan oak) to chir pine forest. “The banj forests are the very centers of nature’s economic cycle on the southern slopes of the Himalaya. To destroy them is to cut out the heart and thus bring death to the whole structure,” she wrote.

How is pine bad for environment ?

Fire Hazard– Single pine trees in diverse forests don’t cause much harm but plantations or revenue forests are biggest fire hazards. It is an established fact that pine needles are highly inflammable and are one of the main causes of forest fires. Further pine resin acts as fuel to fire.

Aggressive Species– Pine is an aggressive species. It does not require much soil to germinate. Thus, it keeps expanding through the natural process. The forest fires near the natural forests dry up their soil thus making them suitable only for the germination of pine, as it can grow even without much moisture. Chirpine’s characteristics like dominance, gregarious distribution and resistance to fire and beating the recurrent fire have made it a biotic climax species hindering the natural ecosystem.

Aquifer Depletion– Pine forests are worst for the underground water recharge. Its needle shaped leaves don’t absorb and control water flow like walnut trees which absorb more rain water due to wider leaves and control flow unlike pines. Their thin trunks can’t stop water and also lead to soil erosion. In a study Geography Department of Kumaun University in Almora showed that the groundwater recharge rate in oak forests is 23 per cent, compared to a  8 per cent in pine forests. As the recharge rate of pine forest is only one-third of the oak forest, it leads to cumulative water depletion, soil erosion and natural calamities like landslides and floods. They should never be planted in catchment regions of rivers .

Toxic for Soil– A pine tree sheds copious amounts of pine needles (pirul), which due to its toxicity is neither consumed by animals nor decomposed by microbes to convert it into humus and soil. Every year, the annual production of pine needles is more than by the last years leaf fall. Thus, the pine needles keep accumulating year after year without natural decaying process. The pine needle becoems like an impermeable plastic sheet, which doesn’t let water go in and  the rainfall runsoff all over the area. Being acidic in nature it kills most of the undergrowth.

Pine Tree Pollution– This was discussed  when pine was used as christmas trees at insulated homes during winter resulting in many breathing issues. Fortunately we in India have used Cypress (morphankhi) as christmas trees and avoided the pollutants. In a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University Pine trees are shown as one of the biggest contributors to air pollution. They give off gases that react with airborne chemicals — many of which are produced by human activity — creating tiny, invisible particles that muddy the air. these biogenic particles formed from pine tree emissions are much more chemically interesting and dynamic than previously thought. The air that we breathe is chock-full of particles called aerosols. These tiny liquid or solid particles come from hundreds of sources including trees, volcanoes, cars, trucks and wood fires. The small particles influence cloud formation and rainfall, and affect climate and human health.

Alleopathy – Pine tree hinders in seed germination and growth of nearby plants killing slowly all other species.

Shallow Root System– Pine trees have one tap root and other shallow roots spreading as far as 2-3 times its height .Its easier for wind and water to uproot pine trees.

Solutions– Pine is a natures gift considering it’s usefulness but on the other hand too much of it is bad for the ecosystem. Some solutions suggested by eco-conscious people are-

 Planting in small batches interspaced by broad leafed native species,

Planting in arid , barren regions where chances of flood and very strong winds are less and never in a catchment area.

Regularly removing needle and cones from the area to open up the soil

Making recharge wells near pine plantations.

Seems doable but I find reducing its usage as revenue generator and opt for other sources of resins and income would be better . Unfortunately I have come across pine trees growing rapidly in Nilgiri Biosphere now. One of its kind with thousands of endemic flora and fauna Nilgiri biosphere is threated by its expansion.


Nature Lover, Bangalore

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