Forests world over are shrinking and various anthropogenic activities, such as timber extraction, industrialisation, agricultural expansion, mining and urbanisation are leading to these changes.
While forest cover loss (FCL) in tropical regions is influenced by a number of factors such as increasing population, migration, unemployment, lack of property rights, and agricultural and infrastructural development, mining activities are among the most important causes for loss of forest cover informs this paper published in the Journal of Environmental Management.
Mining involves acquisition of vast stretches of land and land use changes that often lead to conflicts among various stakeholders, including the government, investors and the people who depend on the land for their livelihoods. Increase in mining activities also leads to extensive environmental degradation and destruction of forests.
Forests are vital resources that purify the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, prevent erosion, and act as an important buffers against climate change. Forests support a diverse array of plants and animals and provide essential natural resources from timber and food to medicinal plants.
While forests also support local communities that depend on them for their livelihood and survival, mining can spell doom for the lives and livelihoods of indigenous tribes and populations that depend on forests and forest produce.
Mining in Odisha
The study explores the impact of mining on forest resources of Odisha. Odisha, the wealthiest Indian state in terms of mineral deposits like coal, iron ore, bauxite, chromite, and manganese, contributes significantly to the state’s and India’s Gross Domestic Product. Mineral production and the number of workers involved in mining activities in the state show a rise in recent years.
The forest covers 33.15 percent of the geographical area in Odisha and the state has a large proportion of tribal population that resides in these forests, with the highest concentration of tribal populations being found in Mayurbhanj, followed by Rayadada districts.
The primary coal deposits in Odisha are located in deep-forested areas around indigenous populations, and the mineral exploration has resulted in the displacement of large numbers of tribal populations. This has happened because mining production has now shifted from underground to open-pit mining threatening people’s livelihoods causing conflicts between the local populations and the mining companies.
Mining is eating into the rich forest reserves of Odisha
The study finds that:
- Mining activities have led to severe changes in the landscape and the districts of Nabarangpur, Puri, Kendrapara, and Kalahandi have lost more than 20 percent of their forest cover. Forest losses in Koraput, Rayagada, Kandhamal, Keonjhar, Gajapati, and Malkangiri range from 10 to 20 percent.
- The highest forest cover losses have occurred in the Kandhamal, Rayagada, Kalahandi, Gajapati, Koraput, Keonjhar, Malkangiri, Ganjam, and Nabarangpur districts.
- The highest mean change rate of 24.21 km2 /year has occurred in Kandhamal district, while Rayagada district has the second-highest change rate with a mean value of 13.81 km2 /year. Kalahandi district is next at 11, 21 km2 /year, while Gajapati, Koraput and Keonjhar hold the fourth, fifth and sixth positions in terms of mean change rate.
- The districts having the most extensive forest cover loss (FCL) have also witnessed mass protests by indigenous tribal populations, and the best examples are Rayagada, Kalahandi, and Koraput
After mining was shifted to underground in 2016, the destruction of forests seemed to slow down. However, deforestation now continues and has extended over longer distances - more than 10 km beyond lease boundaries due to the combined effects of land-use displacement, urban expansion, development of commodity supply chains and due to spread of mine waste discharge and spills. This has not only threatened biodiversity in the area, but also caused changes in local climate.
Mining activity is now expanding rapidly in a high-value forest area that is already subject to a host of other pressures such as conversion into agricultural lands, pasture lands and population growth.
- Comprehensive and continued monitoring of forest cover loss is needed to identify drivers of forest cover change and help policymakers in taking effective measures for sustainable conservation and development of forests.
- There is a need to prioritise management and preservation of forest cover and conservation of biodiversity around mines and refineries and support public policy and management interventions to lessen the impact of mining on forest cover.
- Urgent efforts are needed to mitigate impacts of mining activities that exacerbate pressure on forests by identifying other associated causes of deforestation before granting new mining licenses.
The full paper can be accessed here