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Himachal losing its heritage forests

Deodar, the heritage tree of Himachal Pradesh and one of the key conifer species of Himalayan ecosystems is fast dying out.

The deodar is dying either singly or in centrifugally expanding patches at many locations in the Upper Himachal, scientists at the Himalayan Forest Research Institute (HFRI) have discovered.

The dying of deodar has been investigated to be caused by a fungus named Phytophthora cinnamomi, which has, in the past, infected more than 900 host plants across 60 countries and has also been responsible for wiping out Eucalyptus marginata in Australia. 

The roots of the affected plant decayed with root rot and then disintegrate, destroying their ability to extract water, mineral and nutrients from the soil. The infected plants are then subjected to water stress, leading to internal drought.
The zoorospores of pathogen attacked the tip of the plants’ roots, where they lodge, encyst and germinate to produce germ tubes, which penetrates in the fibrous tissue. Mycelium then grows within the roots of susceptible plants and grows from plants to plants through root contact, the report points out.

‘This disease is a threat to the deodar forests as a whole in the cold temperate 2000-3000 met. high range of HP. Deodar is a keystone species of the conifer forests and provides sustainable services to the Western Himalayan ecosystems. The stability of the conifer forest ecosystems lies in deodar. The entire ecosystem will collapse if deodar is wiped out,’ said Ranjeet Singh, a scientist with the HFRI, who conducted the study.

Out of the total forest area of 5661 sq. km, conifers occupy 77.7 per cent, at 4,399 sq. km. Deodar forests cover around 811 sq km of the total area and are spread in and around Shimla, Kufri, Chail, Narkanda and Kullu areas.

‘We have written to both the state and central government to address this issue. It is a serious threat and efforts need to be taken instantly to check this or else the entire deodar forests will be wiped out,’ VRR Singh, director of HFRI said.


When confronted with the issue, AK Goyal, additional principal chief conservator of forests of the Northern Zone of the environment ministry said, ‘We would soon have a meeting to review of the working plan of the state in which we would discuss whether something can be done on this. The state should incorporate this matter in their working plan and submit it to us for redressal when we meet.’

 
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