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Saturday, May 18

High Time to Formulate Policies to Tackle Alien Species in India, says experts

It’s time for an all-out war with the aliens, at least in the protected forest areas, but we lack policies, says a group of conservation scientists in the country. Invasive Alien Species (IAS) of plants are the second largest threat to the diversity of the forests, behind habitat fragmentation, but the conservation policy makers are yet to swing into action to tackle the issue, alleges a group of scientists while reviewing the status of IAS in the country and related conservation laws in India.

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Lanatana Camara flowers
Image courtesy: Obsidian Soul/Wikimedia Commons
According to an article written by them in the Current Science journal, plants like Chromolaena odorataLantana camaraMikania micranthaMimosa diplotricha and Parthenium hysterophorus are some of the major invasive alien plant species in India which are spreading rapidly in protected areas (PAs), suppressing the growth of the native flora. The alien menace has affected birds, animals and has not even spared the tribal populations depending on forests, it says.  “Large numbers of forest dependent communities still depend on forest resources and their livelihood is at stake due to pervasive landscape alteration by major IAS in different parts of India,”, says the article.

Lack of policies and distorted interpretations
Though the threat and impact are high, most of the protected areas in India do not have a clear and active eradication programme to tackle IAS, mainly because of lack of awareness among wildlife officials and their twisted interpretation of the conservation laws in the country. Wildlife (Conservation) Act, 1972, which is the major legislation regarding protected areas in the country, prohibit harvesting or removing any plant or animal materials from the PAs. This is raised as a major reason by protected area managers for not taking active eradication programmes against invasive plant species.

Chromolaena odorata
Image Courtesy: 
Ashasathees/Wikimedia Commons
Moreover, the Protected Area managers and policy makers are yet to understand the importance to eradicate IAS. Most often, the notions of the officials often end up encouraging exotic species. “Their (PA managers’) species selection for plantations is based on three criteria: (a) fast growth, (b) good timber value and (c) unpalatability to game species. These criteria encourage the planting of exotic species …….in effect replacing one IAS with another alien species”, points out the write-up. According to it, some of them even think that IAS likeLantana are good for the animals since it give them cover to hide. But they forget that “such a role was played by indigenous understorey species prior to being replaced by vast swathes ofLantana, now dominant in many PAs”, it says.

How to eradicate Invasive Alien Species?
Removal of invasive plants from an area of infestation is not an easy job, since most of them show extra-ordinary abilities to reestablish themselves in the areas. “The seed bank of the major IAS remains and hence reinvasion occurs rapidly. Some IAS, such as Lantana, which are buried deeply can be stimulated to germinate when exposed to light and fire”, says the experts.

Presently, whatever nominal eradication programmes run in some protected areas are very narrower in their nature since they focus only on removing the IAS for the purpose of making fire lines. However, there is a need to develop early detection mechanisms to spot the menace when it begins so that the eradication is easier, constant monitoring to prevent spread of the IAS and resulting forest fragmentation.

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Lantana Camara growing rapidly suppressing native plants in a farmland in Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh 

Manual removal is the best practice so far observed to tackle the menace, according to the article. Though it is very effective in small areas, it may not be so for large areas since the estimated cost of manual eradication is anything between 4000 to 5000 Rupees per hectare. But implementing any such measures on a wide scale may not be possible in the absence of legal provisions to facilitate it.

However, there is a possible way out, according to the experts. According to them, the issue can be raised with the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) which can submit recommendations and suggestions to review existing conservation legislation to tackle the issue. So the ball is in the court of conservationists in the country. “We see a compelling case for scientists/managers to approach the CEC for clear guidelines and exemptions regarding programmes for the vigorous control and removal of IAS from the PAs.”, says the article.

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