If our forests are in peril so are our pastures/grasslands and both men and animals contribute their destruction. This problem is however, not new. Recent survey conducted has classified 80 per cent of country’s pastures/grasslands as ‘very poor’ in forage production. But it is great pity that even today there are no concrete strategies on the grassland’s management. This, as a result is playing a great havoc with the biodiversity, they support. The fate of several globally endangered species has been threatened by dwindling grasslands in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh & Jammu and Kashmir as well as North Eastern Hill region. Now, Assam has almost no natural grasslands of any significance for conserving wildlife. In first-ever World Wide Fund Survey of grasslands in the North Cacher Hills, Hermen & Barak valley, it was found that grasslands cover less than 2 per cent of the total geographical area. It has adversely affected the rich biodiversity of the region. Rich elephant grass, once existed in flood plains of main rivers in Barak Valley, Southern Nagaon and Herman. During the survey, the globally endangered wild water buffalo was sighted in Barak Valley for the first time. The swamp deer and Bengal florican, which once thrived in valley, are now locally extinct. The growing demand for cultivable land due to population explosion is eating into our grasslands. Common lands, which used to provide grazing grounds, are now being used for agriculture, residential accommodations, building roads/railway tracks, hydroelectric projects. Remaining pastures are being destroyed by growing livestock. India is now 2nd biggest dairy producer in the world with 1 livestock animal for every 2-persons. As a matter of fact, 25 per cent of total agricultural production comes from cattle rearing & dairy farming. As more & more animals are required to produce huge me amount of milk which means an increasing demand for fodder, so the grasslands are getting degraded. There is an acute shortage of fodder in these degraded grasslands, which is responsible for deterioration of livestock’s quality. The malnutrition of livestock is responsible for lessor yield of milk, late attainment of maturity, puberty and longer inter-calving period. The green fields in the hills and mountains of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand & Himachal Pradesh, especially during rainy and spring seasons which acted as pastures, are now a days, in a very degraded conditions. The greatest single factor causing degradation of these grasslands is over grazing over the years resulting into depletion of desirable and platable grass species. As per reports out of the total area of J&K State 2,22,000 Km2 , nearly 4,200 Km2 area was under grasslands. About 1658.53 Km2 was in the temperate region and2533.09 Km2 was in higher altitudes within, the coniferous forests known as ‘Margs’. While the area for grazing the pasture lands is limited as compared to the growing animal population which was over 6 millions during 1989-1990 & to 9.2 millions during 1999-2000, 10.34 million during 2009. The grazing areas are shrinking and deteriorating due to depletion of once rich in edible grasses and legumes for livestock. In an inverse response to the grazing area which is perpetually shrinking, the livestock population is on a rampant increase. In 1950, the livestock population was 3.08 million, in 1960 it arose to 4.1 million, in 1982 it was estimated to be 5.96 million and these days it is roughly assumed to over 10 million. Due to increase in the number of livestock and a consequent pressure on the grasslands did not maintain the quality of the livestock. Besides moving with more than 1.5 million sheep and goats by the Bakerwals/Gujjars/Gaddis known as nomads or shepherds leave behind a trail of destruction both on pastures & forests. While on seasonal migration, nomads cut most of the trees for their shelter and cooking and livestock feed on palatable grasses of the pastures. Similarly tribal people in Kargil, Changthang (Union territory of Ladakh) as well as Poonch, Rajouri, Bhadarwah, Kishtwar, Lohi Malhar go on migrating place to place in search of green pastures for their livestock & settle there temporarily till stock of green grass is not exhausted. In certain pockets of Rajouri, Udhampur and Kathua district vis-a-vis Kandi belt of Jammu, grasslands have already become limited, so the livestock has to depend upon the vegetation of forest species. In Kandi belt, the camel and goat have made lot of damage to grasslands, various forest species & bushes. Goats cause more damage because they eat both shoots and roots which means further degradation of the grasslands. Growing weeds are replacing edible grass species. While palatable edible grasses & legumes are not being regenerated, the weeds and unpalatable bushes like Lantana xanthium which do not get any competition from former, overtake edible flora and hamper their further growth. Because of the thin soil cover, which is resulted from heavy grazing and massive soil erosion there is increase in soil temperature and rate of evaporation. This, in turn has changed the habitat conditions to such an extent that the preferred species may no longer find it suitable for their growth. The pressure on pastures & forests is due to carrying capacity of the increased livestock number. It has diminished the production and productivity of different species. In addition to this, there is lot of erosion of the top soil which causes great disturbances of water regime & eventually the regeneration of grasslands & forest areas. The worst sufferers in this direction are the pastures lying in the Chenab valley and Lolab valley of Kashmir. Several species of animals and birds which are closely linked with the biodiversity of grasslands including wild cow, wild buffalo wild goat, black buck, wild ass are also under threat of extinction. A number of birds like crow, peacock, quail and vultures, have already reduced in their number from Siwaliks due to depletion of grasslands (locally known as Rakhs) and forests. Similar is the fate of some reptiles and amphibians.Prof. (Dr.) R.D. Gupta
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