The forest Nature’s crown

By Rishi Walker
We are consumers of life. For millennia, we have gathered, hunted, burned and extracted from the earth, relentlessly modified our environment according to our tastes and needs. We have made deserts of jungles, erected metropolises on mangroves, beaches and waves, we have cemented coastlines, dammed and redirected rivers, we have evaporated seas, flattened mountains, drained our aquifers, polluted the air we breathe, and every day we eradicate hundreds of species of plants and animals from the process of evolution.
The crushing majority of humanity continues to exist oblivious to the finite character of its very life-support system and tends to forget (out of ignorance, greed and/or socio-economic constraint) that its species is seated at the very top of the food chain. Take away the producers of life, destroy the decomposers and, well, things get tough for the consumers.
Vegetation is the offspring of the climate and the geology, their synthesis. It makes the most of these two dynamic determinants and, irrespectively of the geographic location, regardless of the time required, it seeks to reach a stage of climax. In other words, vegetation evolves as a system over thousands of years and eventually attains a maximum amount of biomass per surface unit. In this state of plenitude, a climax of diversity systemically creates the most efficient, complex and intelligent child of climate and geology’s marriage: the climax forest. A forest, when it is devoid of human intervention, is the most advanced stage of nature, the crest of her ever-progressing creation.

This intrinsic trend of vegetation to evolve systemically into an optimum state of stability is being held back or reversed by the activities of man and the ever-increasing anthropogenisation of landscapes. Virgin forests are a precarious rarity; fragmented and shrinking, once a carpet of green covering every corner of the planet where natural conditions permitted, it is today a pathetic, riven body, forlorn and scattered in thinning pockets of degeneracy. These systems, hundreds of millions of years old with trees living through millennia, are being destroyed in order to accommodate landscapes efficient only in the capitalistic sense – landscapes designed to provide man with immediate, short-lived and non-renewable returns.
The last forest sanctuaries of the world are not only shrinking territorially, but are undergoing at various rates a simplification of their biological and genetic material. Monoculture plantations of oil palms, extensive fields of soya to feed McCows, mining for iron-ore, gold, oil and other subterranean resources, urban sprawl through linear development, infrastructural development for power generation, timber trade, speculative man-made fires and, to a lesser extent, clear-cutting for sustenance farming are reducing the earth’s protective cover every instant of every day.

For vegetation is indeed the cover the earth uses to shield itself from the life-giving yet merciless elements, the striking rain, the burning sun, the sweeping wind. If one were to compare a barren land, denuded, sub-soil exposed to and sterilised by the high sun, to an open wound, then healing the earth would correspond to helping the gradual restoration of her skin, her carpet of green. Our world is covered with wounds, the earth is bleeding everywhere; she is prevented unremittingly from healing herself, yet (and this is good to keep in mind) never, not even for the briefest instant, does she lessen the joyous intensity with which she pursues her health and abundance.

If virgin forests are the landscapes on this planet which produce and sustain the largest diversity of life, they are the best designs, those most suited to maximise the inputs of solar energy and rainfall and to create, out of the two, stability. Unsustainibility therefore increases with the level of degradation and the inaptitude of the landscape to overcome climatic extremes – floods and droughts. Everything short of a protected forest can be defined as an inapt system in this regard.
Vegetation produces life. Plants process sunlight and transform it, with the help of humidity, into organic matter. The larger the surface of photosynthesis, the less unprocessed solar energy there is to be wasted as heat, to be absorbed by the ground and to reflect back into the atmosphere. This is particularly relevant in the tropics due and the intense solar incidence.

In a world devoid of man or any other self-centric species, the tropical belt – wherever geology, topography and rainfall allow – would be under dense forest cover. The multiple canopies, the countless epiphytes, the thick, dark and sponge-like soil, lifted and opened with dense root systems and heaving with tireless decomposers in complex underground networks, would absorb even centenary deluges. The climax forest reduces extremes and maintains harmony, a continued stage for biological life and its evolution.
Surface runoff would be minimal, there would be no erosion. The water aquifers would be filled, and the evapotranspiration of this vegetal kingdom would condense with passing cool winds and fall as precipitation. In a closed cycle, temperatures would be constant. Humidity contained within a climax forest system is such that the effects of drought – successive years of under-average rainfall – would not be felt unless the macro-climatic change in question continues for several years (cyclic periods of warming and cooling, volcanic eruptions and asteroid impact.)

Today one cannot help but observe the degradation of the landscapes in which we live, their degree of artificiality and fragility. Generations all over the world were born in sick landscapes which have become normality, the natural state of the environment. It is for this reason, and in a context of significant global demographic growth in the coming decades, that the preservation of existing forests is of utmost importance. Actively protecting virgin remnants in view of preserving the genetic material for future generations to spread is of critical importance. Once the global population stabilizes and then begins to decrease, these protected sanctuary forests would spread forthwith thanks to the decreased anthropic pressure on surrounding lands. Its species would recolonise the latter through the methodical and intricate process of species succession.


Illicit logging threatens Yodha Ela irrigation system

By The Nation News Desk
The Giant’s Canal (Yodha Ela) irrigation waterway built by ancient irrigation engineers is in danger of destruction due to illicit logging along its reservations located in the Minneriya National Park, within the Hingurakgoda Divisional Secretary’s area of authority, environmentalists warn.
Illicit logging done on the behest of a Hingurakgoda Pradeshiya Sabha member by poachers doing illicit timber business causing harm to the irrigation canal carrying water from the Minneriya Reservoir to farmlands of Medirigiriya and Hingurakgoda.
The rich dry zone biodiversity in the national park and the valuable trees such as Palu, Weera and Ebony are being destroyed by the poachers, Centre for Environmental and Nature Studies said it had made complaints to the Central Environmental Authority regarding the damage done to the irrigation system and the national park on September and October 2010, but the destruction has not stopped.
Though the destruction of the forest cover was stopped by the intervention of the Environmental Affairs Ministry after public protest made by the farmers of the locality the same group of poachers are back at their illicit logging and cutting earth along the reservation CENS also said.
The environmental group CENS said they had made another complaint to the CEA about the destruction of the reservation and its rich tropical biodiversity but the politico and his group of poachers were still continuing to cut down trees and move earth on the reservation with impunity. The banks of the irrigation canal Yodha Ela are being eroded posing the threat of destruction of this ancient invaluable irrigation system as the monsoonal rainy season of the dry zone has now started.


Illegal permits issued to encroach Pallekaduwa forest reserve

By Pamithi Lavanma
The environmentally rich Pallekaduwa forest reserve nestled between the Deeghavapi sacred shrine area and the archaeological site is being threatened by encroachers using various ploys to make human settlements compelling the Forest Conservation Department to seek the assistance of the Army to stop it, official sources said.
Pallekaduwa forest reserve has an area of hundred acres approximately but the encroachers are not those underprivileged people who do not own any land. Those engaged in encroaching on the forest reserve are rich racketeers. It is said that some corrupt officials of the Addalaichenai Divisional Secretariat had prepared illegal land permits to allow them to engage in this illicit operation.
These corrupt officials had prepared 31 illegal land permits to these rich racketeers but were found by the District Land Commissioner. The encroachment of the Deeghavapi Holy shrine area has also started afresh. However the District Secretary Ampara, Sunil Kannangara sought the assistance of the Army to station a detachment in the reserve to prevent encroachment.
The District Land Commissioner’s officials have found that a Grama Niladhari attached to the Divisional Secretariat with some officers of the DS office had issued land permits to a number of individuals who started encroaching the area. They have been informed by Forest Conservation Department officials that the Divisional Secretary or his officials had no legal authority to issue permits to clear forest reserves.
Due to the heavy rains experienced now the forest reserve is facing soil erosion and destruction of the wild life. The special investigation unit of the Public Administration Ministry had investigated the matter and found that the officers of the DS office Addalachenai were guilty of serious misconduct.


The Environment and You

A series of lectures titled ‘The Environment and You’ will be conducted by the Environmental Foundation (EFL), a non-profit organisation working in environmental conservation and protection since 1981, to celebrate 30 years of conservation and environmental justice in Sri Lanka.
Venue: Auditorium, First floor, Dialog Future World, 338, T. B. Jayah Mawatha, Colombo 10 (Enter through the Excel World entrance, ample parking)
Time: 5.30 pm – 7.00 pm

Conserving our marine and coastal treasures – December 1
Taking a look at the sea, its bountiful treasures from a conservation angel and exploring its tourism potential.
Conducted by: Dr. Pradeep Kumara, Marine Biologist, Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of Oceanography and Marine Geology, Faculty of Fisheries, Marine Science and Technology, University of Ruhuna

The economics of the environment – December 8
The value of ecosystem goods and services, the gains from nature, the losses of environmental degradation and the importance of a healthy environment for human wellbeing.
Conducted by: Dr. Ranjith Bandara, Chairman, Sri Lanka Foundation; Senior Lecturer Department of Economics, University of Colombo; Senior Economic Advisor and Director, Financial Service Cluster of the Strategic Enterprise Management Agency under the President’s Office.
Responsible wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka – December 15
A look at recent trends in the tourism sector, its impact on the environment and laws and policies that govern it.

Conducted by: TBC