Ecological analysis of The Satpura conservation area landscape through stratified field sampling and remotely sensed data
Production Manager, Avineon India, 605 HUDA Complex, Maitrivanam, SR Nagar,Hyderabad – 500038, AP, India
Forestry is dependent on an exhaustive spatial and non-spatial database. It incorporates information on geology, soil, climate, topography, vegetation types etc along with their growth behaviour, densities, utilization patterns, administrative setup, roads and communication, climate, demography, wildlife census etc. Creation of such a huge database is time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, information once collected has to be updated periodically. Over decades, foresters have evolved scientific methodologies to create and update this database. There is a constant quest for improvement of the existing methodologies by making innovative use of latest scientific knowledge and technology. Satellite remote sensing has emerged as an efficient source for generation of forestry crop data and the Geographical Information System as a strong tool to integrate the same with other components of the database, carry out analyses and generate maps and tabular outputs to achieve the desired results (Jadhav et al, 1992; Jadhav et al, 1988; Jadhav and Narain, 1985).
Satpura Conservation Area (SCA) represents the central Indian Highlands and is a heterogeneous mosaic of a large contiguous forest area that includes protected areas where resource use has been stopped or controlled for a long time and the managed forests where it is still on. Human use of resource is need-based and hence a strategy to keep people away from the resource is neither feasible nor viable. Keeping in mind that we cannot turn a Nelson’s eye to the unwise use of the resource, there is a need to build up a good scientific information base for large landscapes so that some immediate remedial measures can be worked to relieve the system from the stress. Hence emerges a need to zoom out from the stand levels to landscape levels, generate access to the natural history of the area, document the past management systems, assess the present scenario and come out with answers to queries which would serve as prescriptions with easy field applicability.
Conservation significance of the area:
Economic: The area represents the central Indian Highlands and the forests are economically amongst the most valuable of the dry deciduous types. Teak (Tectona grandis) also known as ‘king of timbers’ is the principal timber species. The largest size trees grow in the moister tracts of the Bori reserve in the north, no longer cut since the area is now included in the Satpura National Park and Bori Wildlife Sanctuary (M.P). There are several other less valuable timber species that grow along with teak. A small tract of sal (Shorea robusta) forests, another timber species among those most valuable that grow in India lies to the north-east, albeit on poor quality site, not harvested for a long time and now included in the PAs. The local forests and the forest dwelling tribal and non tribal communities economically are heavily dependent on these forests for their supply of small timber, fuel wood, bamboo, thatch grass, a variety of wild fruits, fibre, gum, seeds, medicinal forest produce, leaves, and fodder for grazing their cattle. Food items are derived from plant products with supplement of fish from streams. Leaves of the tendu tree (Diospyros melanoxylon) a nationalized produce collection provides large-scale employment and significant monitory gain for those engaged in collection activity. Tendu leaves support a multi-million-rupee industry.
Biological: SCA represents one of the largest contiguous populations of the critically endangered tiger estimated between 120-140 individuals. The other endangered species include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians fishes and insects. A number of endangered plants are documented with at least four pteridophytes in that category. A survey conducted in the Melghat forests has put up a list of more than 200 plant species of cultural and medicinal importance.
The two National Parks within SCA and portions of the four Wildlife sanctuaries represent ecological benchmarks, as they are least disturbed. The dry deciduous mixed forests represented in the SCA are among the finest and diverse within this type.
Ecological processes and functions: There are at least 14 regionally important rivers in the SCA; those in the north drain into the Narmada and the southern into the Tapi. These with their tributaries sustain life- human, plant and wild animals within SCA and local economy depends on these in context of catchment’s capabilities and soil conservation. The Tawa reservoir across the Denwa and Tawa rivers is the arbiter of regional economy in the Hoshangabad district within the command area. Some of the finest wheat and Soyabean crops are raised here that have changed the face of economy in this tract outside the SCA.
Recreational: Outdoor recreation has its own place in the societal values. Pachmarhi to the northeast and Chikhaldara to the south attract a large number of visitors on account of the salubrious climate, verdant landscape and scenic sites. The tourism corporations in MP and Maharashtra respectively have made considerable investments to promote tourism. The Satpura protected area complex around and below Pachmarhi and Melghat tiger reserve below Chikhaldara. Although the tiger is the major attraction, a wide range of animals, birds and plants constitute the recreational values.
Scientific: Since the protected areas are among the least disturbed tract, they are a repository of species richness and diversity; ecological processes and functions; diverse social systems, traditional lifestyles and wisdom. Opportunities for scientific research abound here.