We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
The jury’s still out on that one, but all the evidence points that way. The gory wildlife-trade, which gormandises anything that moves, could have caused Covid’s spiky horror to leap from creatures, who had built a herd-immunity to it, to us. This is why recent headlines have disturbed us. Over-exploited forests, and their self-balancing bio-diversity, are being harvested beyond their renewable capacity, as the media reveals.
Climate change increases frequency of wildlife fires globally: Study (GP 26.9.20) It attributes much of it to humans using fossil fuels on a grand scale. All fossil fuels are the products of ancient forests. Humans have also destroyed living forests. Brazil has done so to make way for cattle ranchers. In Australia and California, people have had to be evacuated from their homes and so, presumably, humans could have started the fires. The dire consequences of these raging infernos will affect all of us. Fires consume oxygen, produce Carbon dioxide and sun-obscuring particulate matter, and disrupt rain-cycles around the world.
We, in Uttarakhand, have a natural buffer against climate change in our forest cover. But how long will that last? In a neighbouring state, a national daily reports that only 10% of compensatory plantations survive. It goes on to say In Western Himalayas, green cover loss compensated with ‘forests’ without trees. An observer discovered that deodar saplings, meant for compensatory planting, had been left to shrivel and die. Presumably, fudged records showed them as a thriving forest! Sadly, climate change does not recognise state boundaries and the defaults of our neighbours’ impact on us. One consequence could have been that 10 districts in our state have received less than normal rainfall with Dehradun district recording a 26% shortfall.
How, then, has Environmental Clearance been given for setting up the 23 towers to support the proposed ropeway? Will no trees be cut for this 5.5 km long cable-car project? Or is the rumoured 17% projected profits more than enough to compensate for the scrapping of the Mussoorie Drinking Water Scheme? Or, perhaps, clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change has, conveniently, not been sought? We don’t have the answers to any of these questions because this whole pie-in-the-sky scheme has been shrouded in curious secrecy.
Our property in Mussoorie is protected by a wood. We have always treated it with great respect as a supportive community of living beings of a more ancient kingdom than our own animal one. In all the years of our mutually beneficial relationship, we have had to seek permission to fell only two maverick trees because they endangered human lives. We recognise many of the others as personalities. There’s the Matriarch who presides over the whole wood; the Twins who are conjoined with the same root system; and the Apartment with a hospitable hole in its trunk in which three successive generations of Flying Squirrels have been reared. Then here’s the Owlery in which two families of owls were born and later took silent flight into the night.
Our wood enriches our garden with leaf-mould from the pit into which pre-monsoon leaf-fall is swept off the roads, and deposited. Our Victorian-era cottage is largely a green one, an extension of our forest, in which we try to nurture plants once common in our woods: the graceful ringal, white arboreal orchids, a shade-loving mauve ground orchid, also a riot of primulas which once spangled the pushtas on the Mussoorie-
Dehra Highway. And ferns, profusions of wild ferns, many of them dripping their shadows on the koi-carp pond built into our rockery.
Most importantly, our wood breathes in our carbon dioxide, breathes out oxygen, moisturises our air, protects us from storms, shades us and binds our fragile soil with its intricate network of roots. It has also evolved over the years. From being a largely oak forest it has become a, run-off preventing, windmill palm grove under the oak cover. It did this on its own.
We must, no longer, treat our forests as meat farmers treat their herds: bred for slaughter. Forests are our life partners. Without the miracle of their solar-energy powered chlorophyll, and continued cooperation to produce breathable air, we humans would not be here.