India State of Forest Report – 2021

India has a robust system for periodic assessment of its forest resources through the Forest Survey of India (FSI) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change. FSI carries out nation-wide mapping of Forest Cover, National Forest Inventory, and Trees Outside Forests. The findings are published in a biennial India State of Forest Report (ISFR), since 1987. The latest ISFR 2021, based on 2019-21 data, provides information on various parameters of India’s forests.

Key Terms and Concepts

Canopy and Canopy Density

The cover of branches and Foliage formed by the crown of trees is called Canopy. The percentage area of land covered by the canopy of trees is called Canopy density.

Forest Cover

All lands which are more than 1 hectare in area and with a Canopy density of more than 10% irrespective of the ownership and legal status is called Forest Cover. Also, it does not make any distinction whether the forest is natural or manmade forest, government or private, recorded or not recorded. It includes bamboo, orchards, palm etc.

Minimum Mappable Area

The minimum mappable area that can be delineated and mapped accurately as Forest Cover is 1 hectare or more. Smaller land parcels, even if having the defined canopy density, cannot be reliably mapped and hence excluded. This minimum area threshold is based on the spatial resolution of satellite data used.

Ownership and Legal Status

Forest Cover mapping does not consider ownership or legal status of lands. All categories of lands like government forests, community lands, private lands, village woodlots, scattered trees, small plantations, orchards, palm trees, bamboo stands etc. are included as Forest Cover if meeting the canopy density and area criteria.

Tree Definition

Tree has been defined to include all woody perennials with secondary growth and capacity to attain a minimum height of 5 meters. Thus, tree species like palms, bamboos, fruit trees etc. are included along with conventional timber-producing trees. No distinction is made regarding origin, whether naturally growing or planted.

Non-Forest Lands Excluded

Lands not fulfilling the above criteria in terms of canopy density, area, and tree definition are excluded from Forest Cover. These non-forest lands could be agriculture areas, settlements, water bodies, wetlands, deserts, grasslands etc. Certain vegetation types like some bushy, shrubby growth are also usually classified as non-forest, unless attaining defined density and height.

Recorded Forest Area versus Forest Cover

The term ‘Forest Area’ (or recorded forest area) refers to all the geographic areas recorded as ‘Forests’ in government records recorded forest areas largely consist of reserved Forests (RF) and Protected Forests (PF), which have been constituted under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

Besides RF and PF, the recorded forest area may also include all such areas which have been recorded as forests in the revenue records or have been constituted so under any State Act or local law.

On the other hand, the term ‘Forest Cover’ as used in the ‘SFR’ refers to all lands more than one hectare in area with a tree canopy density of more than 10%. Thus ‘Forest Area’ denotes the legal status of the land, whereas ‘Forest Cover’ indicates presence of trees on any land irrespective of their ownership.

Although majority of the recorded forest areas have vegetation cover, yet there are blanks and areas with tree density less than 10% within it or even areas without any trees. These may include wetlands, rivers, riverbeds, creeks in the mangroves, snow covered areas, glaciers, alpine pastures, cold deserts, grasslands of sholas etc. On the other hand, there are areas outside the recorded forests with tree patches of one hectare and more with canopy density above 10%. Examples include plantations on the community lands, roadside, railways and canals, Eucalyptus, rubber, tea and coffee plantations etc. Such areas also constitute forest cover and are included in the forest cover assessment of FSI.

Objectives of Nation-wide Forest Cover Mapping

The key objectives of nation wide

  1. Monitor changes in forest cover over time at national, state, and district levels to track trends in forest growth or depletion. This identifies threats and stresses to forest resources.
  2. Classify mapped forests into density strata (very dense, moderately dense, open) to assess changes in quality and stocking status of forests over time.
  3. Assess forest cover changes both inside recorded forest areas and outside, including non-forest lands converted to plantations, agroforestry, etc or depleted for development.
  4. Generate seamless spatial forest cover maps for the whole country showing distribution and density of forest vegetation.
  5. Derive digital thematic layers from base maps for further analysis, monitoring, and integration with other geographic information system (GIS) datasets.
Satellite Data and Period

The latest Forest Cover mapping and National Forest Inventory was done using Satellite Sensor Resourcesat LISS-III (Linear Imaging Self Scanning Sensor). It has spatial resolution of 23.5 meters.

Forest Cover Classes

The mapped Forest Cover has been classified into the following canopy density classes:

  1. Very Dense Forest (VDF): Lands with tree canopy density of 70% and above
  2. Moderately Dense Forest (MDF): Lands with tree canopy density between 40-70%
  3. Open Forest (OF): Lands with tree canopy density between 10-40%

In addition, the following supplementary classes have also been mapped:

  1. Scrub: Lands with canopy density <10% not qualifying as Forest Cover
  2. Non-Forest: Lands not included in any of the above classes (such as agriculture areas, wetlands, settlements etc.)

Collateral Data

Collateral data from high-resolution satellite sources is used to improve interpretation and accuracy in problematic areas such as thick cloud cover, hilly terrain, mixed signatures near forest boundaries, water-logged areas, and senescent forests. Sources of collateral data include Google Earth, Sentinel-2, Landsat 8, National Forest Inventory data.

State of Forest Report 2021: Key Findings on India’s Forest Cover

Total Forest Cover of India

The total forest cover of the country is 7,13,789 Km² which is 21.71% of the geographical area of the country. The tree cover of the country is estimated as 95,748 Km² which is 2.91% of the geographical area. Thus, the total Forest and Tree cover of the country is 8,09,537 km² which is 24.62% of the geographical area of the country. Class wise representation is in following table:

ClassArea (Km²)%  Geographical Area
Forest Cover3.04%
Very Dense Forest99,7799.33%
Moderately Dense Forest306,8909.34%
Open Forest307,12021.71%
Total Forest Cover*713,7892.91%
Tree Cover95,74824.62%
Total Forest and Tree Cover809,5371.42%
Non Forest#2,527,141
Total Geographical Area3,287,469
* Includes 4,992 km² under Mangrove Cover  

Conforming to above table, the relative composition of different classes in Total Forest Cover is VDF: 14%; MDF: 43%; and OF: 43%. Of the total Forest Cover, VDF and MDF together constitute 57%, indicating these forests are of good quality with high canopy density.

Top Five States with largest Forest Cover Area

Among the states, Madhya Pradesh has the largest Forest Cover area in the country at 77,493 km². The top 5 states in terms of Forest Cover area are:

  1. Madhya Pradesh (77,493 km²)
  2. Arunachal Pradesh (66,431 km²)
  3. Chhattisgarh (55,717 km²)
  4. Odisha (52,156 km²)
  5. Maharashtra (50,798 km²)
Top Five States with largest percentage of Forest Cover Area

Mizoram has the highest percentage of geographical area under Forest Cover at 84.53%. In terms of percentage of geographic area, the top 5 states are:

  • Mizoram (84.53%)
  • Arunachal Pradesh (79.33%)
  • Meghalaya (76.00%)
  • Manipur (74.34%)
  • Nagaland (73.90%)

All 8 North Eastern states continue to have very high Forest Cover as percentage of their geographical area.

Change in Forest Cover – 2019 to 2021

Telangana has shown the highest increase in forest cover of all the states. Here the forest cover has increased by 3.07%. Followed by Telangana, in Andhra Pradesh, the forest cover has increased by 2.22%. At the third place is the state of Odisha. In Odisha, the forest cover has increased by 1.04%. The increase in these states is due to agroforestry and plantation.

Top States in terms of Forest Loss
  • The states with forest loss were Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya. Jammu and Kashmir (now UTs of J&K and Ladakh).
  • The total mangrove cover in India is 4,992 square kilometres. They have increased by 17 square kilometres.
Forest Fires

In India, 35.46% of forest cover is prone to forest fires. Of this, 11.51% are highly prone, 7.85% are very highly prone, 2.81% are extremely prone.

Climate Change
  • 45% to 64% of forests in India are to experience climate change by 2030. The highly vulnerable climate hot spots are all forests except those in Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Nagaland. Of all the forest areas, Ladakh will be affected the most.
Carbon Stock
  • The forests of India currently hold 7,204 million tonnes of carbon. This is referred to as forest carbon stock.
  • The carbon stock is the atmospheric carbon that is currently sequestrated (held or stored or captured). If the forests are destroyed, they will be released to the atmosphere.
Bamboo Forest
  • The bamboo forest cover is 53,336 million stems or culms. It was 13,882 million stems in 2019.
Decline in Natural Forest
  • The moderately dense forests have decreased by 1,582 square kilometre. These are the natural forests. However, the scrub area has increased by 5,320 square kilometre.
  • This means the forest areas in these regions are replaced by scrubs. This is an indicator to decline in forest area. The very dense forest has increased by 501 square kilometres.
Decline in North East Forest Cover
  • The overall forest cover in this region has declined by 1,020 square kilometres. This is mainly due to shifting agriculture, felling of trees, developmental activities.
New Features of ISFR, 2021
  • For the first time, the ministry has included tiger corridors, tiger reserves and Gir forest.
Tiger Reserves and Corridors
  • In the tiger corridors, the forest cover has increased by 37.15 square kilometre. This increase happened between 2011 and 2021. It is 0.32%.
  • In tiger reserves, the forest cover has decreased by 22.6 square kilometres. This is 0.04%.
  • Between 2011 and 2021, forest cover has decreased in 32 tiger reserves and increased in 20 tiger reserves.
  • The tiger reserves showing increase in forest cover are Anamalai Tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu, Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh, Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal.
  • The tiger reserves showing the highest loss in forest cover are Sunderbans tiger reserve in West Begal, Kawal tiger reserve in Telangana and Bhadra Tiger Reserve in Karnataka.
Forest Cover in Different Altitude Zones

Forest Cover has been analysed in 6 altitude zones based on digital elevation model data:

  1. 0-500m
  2. 500-1000m
  3. 1000-2000m
  4. 2000-3000m
  5. 3000-4000m
  6. Above 4000m

87.83% of total Forest Cover lies between 0-2000m. 1000-2000m has highest % Forest Cover (63.87% of zonal area). Above 4000m has negligible Forest Cover (601 km²). This indicates forest dominance in montane grasslands and temperate forests.

Forest Cover by Cities

Among 7 mega cities where Forest Cover was assessed, Delhi has largest Forest Cover area at 194 km². Mumbai’s Forest Cover is 110 km². Bengaluru’s Forest Cover is 89 km².

Leave a Reply