We are witnessing increasing activities of off-roading in Kashmir forests, which will have serious ill effects on forest ecosystems and both flora and fauna. It will result in deterioration of soil, damage to vegetation, habitat degradation, and that will ultimately pose a serious threat to the wildlife of the region.
Deterioration of soil
Off-roading in forests poses a serious threat of soil erosion that causes loss of valuable nutrients and organic matter which are vital to the core functions of a forest ecosystem. The eroded soils also find their way into local streams and rivers which increases both the sedimentation and turbidity of the waterway. This aquatic impact is seriously detrimental to the organisms living in the aquatic environment, including fish which depend on clear water during spawning.
Damage to Vegetation
Off-roading affects forest vegetation in several ways. Soil compaction and pollution poses a threat to forest vegetation. This may be devastating to an area of the forest by causing fewer and less vigorous plants, reduced plant cover, lower plant diversity, adverse changes in plant species composition, and disruptions to natural plant succession and nutrient cycling processes. The loss of vegetation results in increased soil temperatures, with negative impacts on soil fauna, soil fertility, nutrient cycling, and hydroponic processes.
Threat to wildlife
Off-roading affects wildlife in many ways. It may lead to direct mortality of wildlife, noise impacts, and degradation of the habitat. Noise pollution has a negative impact on animals and birds. Noise pollution affects foraging, stress levels and breeding practices among wild animals. Most researchers agree that noise can affect an animal’s physiology and behaviour, and if it becomes a chronic stress, noise can be injurious to an animal’s energy budget, reproductive success and long-term survival. Off-roading in a forest also impacts wildlife by causing many species to flee areas of high vehicle use. These areas may be important breeding grounds for wild animals but the accumulated stress of noise, pollution and increased activity causes them to search other areas that are suitable as habitat. This behaviour changes due to the presence of disturbance and may lead to a change in home range and dispersal patterns which will impact the entire forest ecosystem due to the interconnectedness of all species.
Off-roading in forests may lead to reduction in the diversity of plant species and in species composition that will affect the habitat of animals. Off-roading damages the natural environment by deterioration of soil and water quality.
Off-roading activities should not be carried out in forests keeping in view their negative impacts on forest ecosystems. People need to understand that forest land is not meant for this activity. It is the responsibility of the forest department and other environment related organisations to immediately ban off-roading activities in forests. NGOs and environmental activists need to come forward before it is too late.
The writer is a PhD scholar at Faculty of Forestry, SKUAST-K. [email protected]