Monday, 3 September 2012

Environmental Management - Natural Resources and associated problems – Forest, Water, Mineral, Food, Energy and Land


Natural Resources and associated problems – Forest, Water, Mineral, Food, Energy and Land

A resource is a source or supply from which an organization gains profit. Typically resources are materials or other assets that are transformed to produce benefit and in the process may be consumed or made unavailable.
From a human perspective a natural resource is anything obtained from the environment to satisfy human needs and wants. From a broader biological or ecological perspective a resource satisfies the needs of a living organism.
Natural resources occur naturally within environments that exist relatively undisturbed by mankind, in a natural form. A natural resource is often characterized by amounts of biodiversity and geodiversity existent in various ecosystems.
Natural resources are derived from the environment. Some of them are essential for our survival while most are used for satisfying our wants. Natural resources may be further classified in different ways.
Natural resources are materials and components (something that can be used) that can be found within the environment. Every man-made product is composed of natural resources (at its fundamental level). A natural resource may exist as a separate entity such as fresh water, and air, as well as a living organism such as a fish, or it may exist in an alternate form which must be processed to obtain the resource such as metal ores, oil, and most forms of energy.
There is much debate worldwide over natural resource allocations, this is partly due to increasing scarcity (depletion of resources) but also because the exportation of natural resources is the basis for many economies (particularly for developed nations such as Australia).
Some Natural resources can be found everywhere such as sunlight and air, when this is so the resource is known as an ubiquitous (existing or being everywhere) resource. However most resources are not ubiquitous. They only occur in small sporadic areas; these resources are referred to as localized resources. There are very few resources that are considered inexhaustible (will not run out in foreseeable future) – these are solar radiation, geothermal energy, and air (though access to clean air may not be). The vast majority of resources are however exhaustible, which means they have a finite quantity, and can be depleted if managed improperly. The natural resources are materials, which living organisms can take from nature for sustaining their life or any components of the natural environment that can be utilized by man to promote his welfare is considered as natural resources.

Classification
There are various methods of categorizing natural resources, these include source of origin, stage of development, and by their renewability, these classifications are described below. On the basis of origin, resources may be divided into:

Biotic – Biotic resources are obtained from the biosphere (living and organic material), such as forests, animals, birds, and fish and the materials that can be obtained from them. Fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum are also included in this category because they are formed from decayed organic matter.

Abiotic – Abiotic resources are those that come from non-living, non-organic material. Examples of abiotic resources include land, fresh water, air and heavy metals including ores such as gold, iron, copper, silver, etc.
Considering their stage of development, natural resources may be referred to in the following ways:

Potential Resources – Potential resources are those that exist in a region and may be used in the future. For example, petroleum may exist in many parts of India, having sedimentary rocks but until the time it is actually drilled out and put into use, it remains a potential resource.

Actual Resources – Actual resources are those that have been surveyed, their quantity and quality determined and are being used in present times. The development of an actual resource, such as wood processing depends upon the technology available and the cost involved.

Reserve Resources – The part of an actual resource which can be developed profitably in the future is called a reserve resource.

Stock Resources – Stock resources are those that have been surveyed but cannot be used by organisms due to lack of technology. For example: hydrogen.

Renewability is a very popular topic and many natural resources can be categorized as either renewable or non-renewable:
Renewable resources are ones that can be replenished naturally. Some of these resources, like sunlight, air, wind, etc., are continuously available and their quantity is not noticeably affected by human consumption. Though many renewable resources do not have such a rapid recovery rate, these resources are susceptible to depletion by over-use. Resources from a human use perspective are classified as renewable only so long as the rate of replenishment/recovery exceeds that of the rate of consumption.
Non-renewable resources are resources that form extremely slowly and those that do not naturally form in the environment. Minerals are the most common resource included in this category. By the human perspective, resources are non-renewable when their rate of consumption exceeds the rate of replenishment/recovery; a good example of this are fossil fuels, which are in this category because their rate of formation is extremely slow (potentially millions of years), meaning they are considered non-renewable. Some resources actually naturally deplete in amount without human interference, the most notable of these being radio-active elements such as uranium, which naturally decay into heavy metals. Of these, the metallic minerals can be re-used by recycling them, but coal and petroleum cannot be recycled.

Forest
A forest, also referred to as a wood or the woods, is an area with a high density of trees. These plant communities cover approximately 9.4 percent of the Earth's surface (or 30 percent of total land area), though they once covered much more (about 50 percent of total land area), in many different regions and function as habitats for organisms, hydrologic flow modulators, and soil conservers, constituting one of the most important aspects of the biosphere. Although forests are classified primarily by trees, the concept of a forest ecosystem includes additional species (such as smaller plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals) as well as physical and chemical processes such as energy flow and nutrient cycling.
A typical forest is composed of the overstory (canopy or upper tree layer) and the understory. The understory is further subdivided into the shrub layer, herb layer, and also the moss layer and soil microbes. In some complex forests, there is also a well-defined lower tree layer. Forests are central to all human life because they provide a diverse range of resources: they store carbon, aid in regulating the planetary climate, purify water and mitigate natural hazards such as floods. Forests also contain roughly 90 percent of the world's terrestrial biodiversity.

Forests are renewable resources. It contributes to economic development by providing goods and services for industry, people and forest dwellers. They provide employment. They play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance, quality of environment, preventing soil erosion, conserving water, regulating water cycle, maintaining oxygen-carbon-dioxide balance and preventing floods.

Distribution
Forests can be found in all regions capable of sustaining tree growth, at altitudes up to the tree line, except where natural fire frequency or other disturbance is too high, or where the environment has been altered by human activity.
The latitudes 10° north and south of the Equator are mostly covered in tropical rainforest, and the latitudes between 53°N and 67°N have boreal forest. As a general rule, forests dominated by angiosperms (broadleaf forests) are more species-rich than those dominated by gymnosperms (conifer, montane, or needleleaf forests), although exceptions exist.
Forests sometimes contain many tree species only within a small area (as in tropical rain and temperate deciduous forests), or relatively few species over large areas (e.g., taiga and arid montane coniferous forests). Forests are often home to many animal and plant species, and biomass per unit area is high compared to other vegetation communities. Much of this biomass occurs below ground in the root systems and as partially decomposed plant detritus. The woody component of a forest contains lignin, which is relatively slow to decompose compared with other organic materials such as cellulose or carbohydrate.
Forests are differentiated from woodlands by the extent of canopy coverage: in a forest, the branches and the foliage of separate trees often meet or interlock, although there can be gaps of varying sizes within an area referred to as forest. Woodland has a more continuously open canopy, with trees spaced farther apart, which allows more sunlight to penetrate to the ground between them called savana.

Among the major forested biomes are:

  • rain forest (tropical and temperate)
  • taiga
  • temperate hardwood forest
  • tropical dry forest

Classification
Forests can be classified in different ways and to different degrees of specificity. One such way is in terms of the "biome" in which they exist, combined with leaf longevity of the dominant species (whether they are evergreen or deciduous). Another distinction is whether the forests are composed predominantly of broadleaf trees, coniferous (needle-leaved) trees, or mixed.
Boreal forests occupy the subarctic zone and are generally evergreen and coniferous.
Temperate zones support both broadleaf deciduous forests (e.g., temperate deciduous forest) and evergreen coniferous forests (e.g., temperate coniferous forests and temperate rainforests). Warm temperate zones support broadleaf evergreen forests, including laurel forests.
Tropical and subtropical forests include tropical and subtropical moist forests, tropical and subtropical dry forests, and tropical and subtropical coniferous forests.
Physiognomy classifies forests based on their overall physical structure or developmental stage (e.g. old growth vs. second growth).
Forests can also be classified more specifically based on the climate and the dominant tree species present, resulting in numerous different forest types (e.g., ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir forest).

Forest loss and management
The scientific study of forest species and their interaction with the environment is referred to as forest ecology, while the management of forests is often referred to as forestry. Forest management has changed considerably over the last few centuries, with rapid changes from the 1980s onwards culminating in a practice now referred to as sustainable forest management. Forest ecologists concentrate on forest patterns and processes, usually with the aim of elucidating cause and effect relationships. Foresters who practice sustainable forest management focus on the integration of ecological, social and economic values, often in consultation with local communities and other stakeholders.
Anthropogenic factors that can affect forests include logging, urban sprawl, human-caused forest fires, acid rain, invasive species, and the slash and burn practices of swidden agriculture or shifting cultivation. The loss and re-growth of forest leads to a distinction between two broad types of forest, primary or old-growth forest and secondary forest. There are also many natural factors that can cause changes in forests over time including forest fires, insects, diseases, weather, competition between species, etc. In 1997, the World Resources Institute recorded that only 20% of the world's original forests remained in large intact tracts of undisturbed forest. More than 75% of these intact forests lie in three countries – the Boreal forests of Russia and Canada and the rainforest of Brazil. In 2006 this information on intact forests was updated using latest available satellite imagery.
Canada has about 4,020,000 square kilometres (1,550,000 sq mi) of forest land. More than 90% of forest land is publicly owned and about 50% of the total forest area is allocated for harvesting. These allocated areas are managed using the principles of sustainable forest management, which includes extensive consultation with local stakeholders. About eight percent of Canada’s forest is legally protected from resource development (Global Forest Watch Canada)(Natural Resources Canada). Much more forest land – about 40 percent of the total forest land base – is subject to varying degrees of protection through processes such as integrated land use planning or defined management areas such as certified forests (Natural Resources Canada).
In the United States, most forests have historically been affected by humans to some degree, though in recent years improved forestry practices has helped regulate or moderate large scale or severe impacts. However, the United States Forest Service estimates a net loss of about 2 million hectares (4,942,000 acres) between 1997 and 2020; this estimate includes conversion of forest land to other uses, including urban and suburban development, as well as afforestation and natural reversion of abandoned crop and pasture land to forest. However, in many areas of the United States, the area of forest is stable or increasing, particularly in many northern states. The opposite problem from flooding has plagued national forests, with loggers complaining that a lack of thinning and proper forest management has resulted in large forest fires.

Forest – Indian Scenario
Forest is the second largest land use in India next to agriculture. The forest cover of India is assessed as 67.83 million hectares which constitute 20.64 per cent of the country's geographical area, ranging from the Himalayan Temperate to Dry Zone forests. Approximately 20% of the overall forest cover of India is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh. States like Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh also house a considerable volume of forests. The second biggest land use in the country after farming is forests.

The National Forest Policy stipulates that one-third of area should be under forest or tree cover. Being a mega-biodiversity country the nation possesses high level of endemism.

The forests play vital role in harboring more than 45,000 floral and 81,000 faunal species of which 5150 floral and 1837 faunal species are endemic. The nation has established 597 Protected Areas comprising 95 National Parks, 500 Wildlife Sanctuaries 2 conservation reserves, 13 biosphere reserves covering 1.56 million ha area or 4.75 per cent geographical area of the country.

The rising demand for forest based products and resultant deforestation and encroachment has led to a severe loss of natural resources and destruction of habitat.
India is likely to face severe shortage of supply of timber to meet its requirement from both domestic and international front. It is estimated that the demand for timber is likely to grow from 58 million cubic metres in 2005 to 153 million cubic meters in 2020. The supply of wood is projected to increase from 29 million cubic meters in 2000 to 60 million cubic meters in 2020. As a result, the nation has to heavily depend on imports for meeting its growing demand. This could result in loss of high conservation value forests or loss of biodiversity elsewhere.

The Living Planet Report 2006 ranked India as the third highest gross foot print nation, followed by US and China. India is presently 4 th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity and is growing at 8-9 per cent per annum. This fast growth coupled with the needs and aspirations of more than one billion people is a challenge for conservation of forests unless environmentally responsible policies are in place. In this regard, the new strategy document of the Forest programme incorporated innovative approaches such as Payment for Forest Ecosystem Services (PES), Ecological Footprint Analysis and Forest Certification.

The identified priority landscapes for field level activities for strengthening conservation of forests and biodiversity are Western Arunachal Landscape (WAL) in eastern Himalayas and South Western Ghats Landscape (SWGL) in the Western Ghats. Besides, the programme continues to provide inputs and support to conservation programmes in other priority landscapes of WWF-India, including Terai Arc Landscape, Kanchanjunga Landscape, Sundarbans landscape.

The 2007 forest census data thus obtained and published by the Government of India suggests the five states with largest area under forest cover as the following:

  • Madhya Pradesh: 7.64 million hectares
  • Arunachal Pradesh: 6.8 million hectares
  • Chhattisgarh: 5.6 million hectares
  • Orissa: 4.83 million hectares
  • Maharashtra: 4.68 million hectares


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