Impacts of tree planting in Himachal Pradesh: ecological transformation in mosaic landscapes, inequality of human impacts, and new research questions.

Impacts of tree planting in Himachal Pradesh: ecological transformation in mosaic landscapes, inequality of human impacts, and new research questions.

24.09.2019, Tuesday
ATREE Auditorium


For decades, India has spent crores of rupees conducting large-scale afforestation and reforestation programs, yet there has been little evaluation of the impact of these programs. We do not know how many trees survived, how the trees changed ecosystems, and how they affected people who depend on forests. This is particularly unfortunate because global efforts to scale up afforestation and reforestation are growing, and India’s extensive tree-planting experience could be used to help design better programs worldwide. Our research aims to fill this gap by collating government records, combining remotely sensed LANDSAT time series with contemporary field mapping of plantation sites, and surveying 2400 affected households across 60 panchayats in Himachal Pradesh.

Our preliminary findings point to politically-driven changes in forest management and inequalities in impacts. Based on analysis of 1500 households and 1000 plantations in 37 panchayats, we find that plantations have dramatically shaped the Himalayan forest landscape. Plantations are mostly composed of mixed needle and broadleaf species, with more needle leaf species in high altitudes and more broadleaf species in lower altitudes. Pinus roxburghii is by far the most common species. Livelihood portfolios are composed of these income streams in decreasing order: salaries and pension, wage labor, remittances, trade, livestock, agriculture, NTFP and home production, with high altitude panchayats relatively more dependent on plantations. Plantations that emphasize locally useful species can increase supplies of important goods while reportedly improving dry season water availability. In contrast, plantations that emphasize commercially valuable pine are reportedly associated with increased fires & invasive species and decreased water availability, while providing few benefits. The number of new pine plantations have decreased dramatically in recent years, both as a result of top-down policy changes and bottom-up advocacy. Livestock herders are particularly vulnerable to livelihood disruptions from plantations which enclose grazing land and complicate migratory routes. Vulnerability is mediated by livelihood strategies and the ecology of particular plantations. Households who are wealthier and/or have livelihoods that are uncoupled from forests experience few negative impacts from plantations.

Our research raises a host of new questions and we are looking for collaborators to help us answer these questions by building on our existing data or working with us to collect more: How are plantations reshaped by local use? Which livelihoods influence plantations? How do community institutions and local politics interact with plantations? How do plantations change the provision of ecosystem goods and services? How do they interact with existing savannas? Which species and planting densities are most effective at achieving win-win situations in which political and social situations? And how do these dynamics vary across India?

About the speakers

Forrest Fleischman is an assistant professor of natural resource & environmental policy in the department of forest resources at the University of Minnesota, where his research focuses on institutions for sustainable natural resource governance in India, the US, Mexico, and elsewhere. In particular, Forrest focuses on understanding how citizen engagement, scientific expertise, and bureaucratic institutions interact to influence forest management over long time frames, and how the resulting management decisions influence the lives of vulnerable people.

Vijay Ramprasad is a Postdoctoral Associate in the University of Minnesota's Department of Forest Resources. His research examines the relationships between local institutions, rural livelihoods, and the environment. He is interested in utilizing root cause analysis to investigate social-ecological outcomes, with a focus on vulnerable social groups and the environments they work in. He also coordinates the Kangra Integrated Sciences and Adaptation Network (KISAN).