Thursday, October 31, 2013

Decision to notify areas in Western Ghats as ESA 'betrayal': Greens


• The Western Ghats was declared as an ecological hotspot in 1988. A large number of plants, amphibians, birds, reptiles, mammals are endemic to this region. This area has a number of protected areas including 2 biosphere reserves, 14 national parks and several wild life sanctuaries. Besides,many regions are declared as reserve forests.

• In recent times,

due to anthropogenic pressures the intactness of the Western Ghats is getting fragmented day-by-day. Most of the ecosystem, which is outside protected area is now in danger. The habitat of plants and animals is also threatened due to large-scale deforestation and destruction of forests.

What is ecological sensitivity;many definitions offered,unlikely that clarity will emerge,social concerns an important basis. We offer the following:

Define ecological sensitivity:
concerns the Western Ghats ecosystem as a single unit; its ability to cope with environmental stresses – stresses like various human induced developments and their impacts;future impacts due to climate change; essentially the ecological resilience and how it might vary from landscape to landscape;

The most sensitive landscapes are those with the least resilience;Ecological Resilience may be assessed based on our understanding of trends of change in communities of woody plants, amphibians and birds or vertebrate animals in general;it is the lag-time (the time taken by different landscapes and their biological communities to come back to the pre-disturbance state; we may adopt the following working definition:
Definitionof ESA: “An ecological sensitive area (ESA) is a bio-climatic unit (as demarcated by entire landscapes) in the Western Ghats wherein human impacts have locally caused irreversible changes in the structure of biological communities (as evident in number/ composition of species and their relative abundances) and their natural habitats”
Protected areas and ESA’s

• Protected areas in contrast to ESA’s: Extensive, standard, heavy and rigid restrictions, no scope for adaptive management, largely focused on flagship species and their habitats, leaves out small, unique habitats

• ESA’s may have Protected areas embedded in them, of various extents, could focus on small special habitats, flexible, adaptive regime of regulation, Whole HP,Sikkim as examples

Proposed criteria

Biological- cultural/ geo-climatic/ People’s perceptions
Biological: Richness: organismal and habitat; Rarity: organismal and habitat;
Biologcial productivity with NDVI and extent of aquatic habitats as the basis; cultural significance

Goeclimatic: Topography: steep slopes, high altitudes; Precipitation: high rainfall;

People’s perceptions: Public and Local bodies, especially Zilla Panchayats; invite people to submit perceptions, rationale and desired set of regulations

Study area: Western Ghats region of all six states(Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat)
Methodology: Western Ghats science database components:

1 .Topography database :The Digital Elevation Model (DEM) from ASTER( Advanced Space-borne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) elevation data, at a spatial resolution of 30 m, would enable to derive slope, aspect of any given point.The data has a raster structure.

2 Climate: The time series data on rainfall by the IMD is an important constituent. Essentially the data is point information. The FIP has also information on the bioclimate for the vegetation types of Western Ghats.

3 Land use /Land cover maps: The nation wide LU/LC information being generated by ISRO at 56 m resolution provides state of land cover for 2009 vintage. For the purpose of ESA exercise, following broad classes will be used. These are Forest, Agriculture,water /wetlands, settlements and barren areas

4 Plant biodiversity maps: The ISRO has, in its nation wide study, generated vegetation types and their spatial distribution with landscape ecological attributes such as fragmentation, patchiness and others. These inputs will also constitute a database for ESA.

5 Roads and settlements: A measure of human activity would be obtained by using these datasets.

6 Human population: Data on aggregated taluk level human population will be made use of.

7 Corridors: As much of our extant biodivesrity is existing outside the formal protected areas. It would be essential to look into information on Corridors. {This will be derived information?}

8 Data on plants: A geographic grid referenced (5X5 ') plant species database available with UAS will be made use of. Possibly endemic, rare, endangered threatened species status will be practical criteria to be used.

9 Data on animal species: Distribution information of approx 400 endemic species of vertebrates, butterflies of Western Ghats would be generated on half degree square grid for the WG (Careearth datasets).

Maps based on data analysis

1) Generate two generic maps; assigning sensitivity levels; one based on Biological data and the other on Goeclimatic data:

2) Classify the entire Western Ghats into landscapes of varying levels of ecological sensitivity

3) Grade the different landscapes along a scale of decreasing sensitivity; example Grade I being the most sensitive, Grade II less sensitive and so on

4) List out the salient physiographic (including climate) and ecological attributes adopted in grading landscapes: Level 1: Geo-climatic attributes: Rainfall, length of the dry season (as inferred from the number of rainy days), altitude (standard low, medium, high and montane as that adopted by the French Institute in their vegetation maps), slope, vegetation type, fragmentation, connectivity and corridors, settlements, road network; all this information presented on a grid map of size 0.5deg x 0.5deg between 8 degN and 21degN; 73 degE and 78 degE; covering 100 grids of approximately 55km x 55km. at this scale the largest single bio- climatic unit (as defined by a single grid) will be around 3000km2; most others will be smaller as the western Grids will include the Arabian sea and the eastern grids, the Plateau outside the limits of the Western Ghats.

Level 2: Biological Attributes: essentially information on endemic species limited to 1) endemic angiosperms (c. 1700spp as available in Dr Ganeshiah’s database), 2) endemic butterflies (37 species), 3) endemic fishes (c. 130 spp), 4) endemic amphibians (c. 125 species), 5) endemic reptiles (c. 100 species), 6) endemic birds (19 species), and 7) endemic mammals (13-15 species); faunal data will be extracted from the NBSAP prepared by RJRD/Care Earth; the information when superimposed on the Geo-climate map will provide grid-wise information on the number of endemic species in selected classes of plants and animals. It is also possible to add information on wild relatives of crop plants if available on these grids. Further, the distribution of Protected Areas on the grids can also been shown.

5) Prepare a map of the entire Western Ghats delineating landscapes by their respective ecological sensitivity grade; this can primarily be guided by the geo-climate especially total annual rainfall and length of the dry season; Pascal (1988) describes the variation in the length of the dry season; there is a north-south and east-west gradient; north-south it is like this; Travancore (between Trivandrum and Allepey the dry period is 3-4 months and in the higher elevation 2-3 months; between Palghat Gap and 13deg 30’ (around Dakshina Kannada) it is it is 4-5 months; between 13deg 30’ and 14deg 15’ (Honnavar) it is 5-6 months; north of 17deg 49’ (Harnai) it exceeds 7 months. Similarly, there is an east-west gradient although not so marked; along the east in the southern Ghats (south of Palghat) the dry season varies from 3-8 months over a distance of just 17km; around Palghat gap it is 5-8 months over 30km. near Chickamagalur, it varies from 5-8 over 55km eastwards. Most significant is in Palni Hills (foothills) 5-12 months; 50% of the years it has been 7-9 months.
6) The map will generally guide the delineation of any landscape as ecologically sensitive area (ESA)

7) Biological communities and species can be used as tools for prioritizing landscapes

8) Biological communities and species should have one or more characteristics such as being relic, representative,endemic,endangered, of great human use value,etc

9) All other values being equal, priority should be accorded to landscapes that are likely to complement ongoing conservation efforts when delineated as ESA

Tentatively the following classes have been suggested: (Grade I most sensitive) Grade I:Type A; Long dry seasons (6-9m); Wet (5000-9000mm);Medium-high

steepness;Western Ghats ; north of 13o N;Typically what is often described as northern Western Ghats ; Example Maharashtra


Grade I: Type B; Montane (above 1500m); E & NE aspect; Steepness – high; Dry-moist; Medium-long dry season; Palni Hills and Eastern Anaimalai Hills; Example Kodaikanal

Grade II Landscapes: Pleistocene Landscapes High to Montane altitude; W-SW aspect; Steepness – high; Wet; Short-medium dry season; Nilgiri Hills,Anaimalai Hills, High Ranges & other Hills in the southern Western Ghats

Grade III Landscapes: watersheds; unique hydrological cycles; High density of first order streams;Torrents, cascades and waterfalls

Grade IV Landscapes: hill-coast ecotonesTo be managed in conjunction with CRZ

notification/rules/amendments; Low elevation; Coasts of north central Western Ghats; Example – Karwar, Honnavar

Grade V Landscapes: cultural landscapes; Landscapes that have preserved pre-colonial human traditions & livelihoods; High density of sacred landscape elements; Vayal, traditional cardamom, betel-nut cultivations, others (Data on crop plants and wild relatives from NBPGR will be useful here)

Grade VI Landscapes; Landscapes that have shown the most resilience;does not however mean they are to be thrown open to further abuse
Assessment at Levels 2: Biological attributes: prioritization; Biological Communities; Relic, Representative; Restricted range; High species richness; High levels of endemism; High ecological service value; Species – Endemic; Endangered; Sacred/Venerated; High human use value

Class-1 or Critical Level-1 ESA: Are those that are identified as sensitive by all the three approaches independently- viz., geo-climatic, biological and public perception. These can be straight away listed and given to local managers and research workers to demarcate the exact boundaries to be notified as the CR- 1 ESAsa

Class-2 or Critical Level-2 ESA: Identified as sensitive based on geo-climatic and biological but not essentially by the public perception. These need to be identified as generic areas and much more fine scale zonation can be done by field visits and local details.

Class-3 or Critical Level-3 ESA : Identified as sensitive by any of the approaches but those we can not immediately conclude. They need to be taken for further debate and discussion both among the scientific groups, public and forest / biodiversity managers.

Execution of the project
1. Dr. S N Prasad -SACON (-Investigator)
2.Dr. Ranjit Daniels – Care Earth (Investigator)
3.Representatives from NRSC, ISRO, Hyderabad
4.Dr KN Ganeshiah, (Investigator)UAS,Bangalore


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