Forests Are Not Meant For Off-Roading

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Offroading in Kashmir Forests poses a threat to Forest Ecosystem

By Jauhar Rafeeq

Since a few months, we are continuously witnessing increasing activities of off-Roading in Kashmir forests which is sure to cause serious ill effects on forest ecosystems and an increase in such an activity will definitely affect not just the flora but fauna as well. It will result in deterioration of soil, damage to vegetation, habitat degradation, more pollution, habitat disturbances and ultimately pose a serious threat to the wildlife of the region.

Off-Roading in the forests poses a serious threat of soil erosion and causes adverse impacts on forest ecology, loss of valuable nutrients and organic matter which are vital to the core functions of a forest system. The eroded soil also finds its way into local streams and rivers which increases both the sedimentation and turbidity of that waterway. This aquatic impact is seriously detrimental to the organisms living in the aquatic environment including fish which depend upon clear water during spawning.

While no one seems concerned about this intrusion of sorts off-roading will also affect forest vegetation in several ways and soil compaction and pollution poses a threat to forest vegetation in general. This may be devastating to an area of the forest by resulting in fewer and less vigorous plants, reduced plant cover, lower plant diversity, adverse changes in plant species composition and disruptions to natural plant succession and nutrient cycling processes. Activities of this nature increase the probability of erosion in the forest ecosystem that will seriously impact vegetation by exposing roots to damage. The loss of vegetation results in increased soil temperatures with negative impacts to soil fauna, soil fertility, nutrient cycling, and hydroponic processes.

It also affects wildlife in many ways. It may lead to direct mortality of wildlife, noise impacts and degradation of the habitat. In forest, wild animals can come in direct contact with vehicles, which may lead to their mortality. Noise pollution has a negative impact on animals and birds. Noise pollution affects foraging, stress levels and breeding practices among wild animals. Most researchers agree that noise can affect an animal’s physiology and behavior, and if it becomes a chronic stress, noise can be injurious to an animal’s energy budget, reproductive success and long term survival.

Among its numerous impacts on wildlife, it also causes many species to flee areas of high vehicle use. These areas may be important breeding grounds for wild animals but the accumulated stress of noise, pollution and increased activity causes them to search  other areas suitable as habitat. This behavior changes due to the presence of this disturbance and may lead to a change in home range and dispersal patterns which will impact the entire forest ecosystem due to the interconnectedness of all species.

It is a very dangerous trend and poses a threat to the habitat of animals and may lead to the reduction in the diversity of plant species and in species composition that will affect the habitat of animals.  It also damages the natural environment by deterioration of soil and water quality.

Off-Roading activities should not be carried out in the forests keeping in view their negative impacts on forest ecosystems. People need to understand that forest land is not meant for this activity and it is the responsibility of the forest department and other environment related organizations to immediately ban the off-Roading activities in the forests.

(Writer is a Ph. D scholar at Faculty of Forestry SKUAST-K. He can be reached at [email protected];.com )

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