Natural vegetation comprises forests, shrubs and grasses, and is determined by climatic conditions and soil types. The climate of Pakistan is too dry for forests, except in the northern hilly and sub-montane belts. Soil formation on the hill slopes is a prerequisite for forest growth, but human practices in these areas have contributed to erosion, rather than to soil formation. Ruthless wood-cutting, over-grazing, and the annual removal of grass cover from the slopes are all processes which handicap soil formation and the development of forests. As a result, there is a marked deficiency of tree-cover in Pakistan.
It is generally accepted that, for a balanced economy, with an agrarian base, 20-25 percent of the land should be under forest. In Pakistan, only about 3 percent of the total area is forested. Afforestation programmes increased the acreage under forest from 3.4 million in 1947/8 to 6.41 million by 1971/2. Additional large areas have been reserved for afforestation in Thal, Ghulam Mohammad Barrage, and Gudu Barrage, and this is likely to improve future acreage to some extent. Of the 6.41 million acres classified as forest in 1971/2, Sind had 1.22 million, Baluchistan, 2.65, the Punjab 1.05 and N.W.F.P. 1.49. Much of the acreage in Sind and Baluchistan is not true forest and, indeed, two-thirds of the “forested” area is scrub-land.
Slightly over two-thirds of the forest land is under public ownership, the remainder being privately owned. Forests are classified as Reserved, Protected, or ‘Unclassified’. Reserved and Protected forests are publicly owned. Tree-felling in Reserved forests is done only under the strict supervision of the Forest Department. In Protected forests the local population has some traditionally acquired rights of use for example, grazing and collection of dried branches for firewood. This makes the scientific management of such forests difficult. Unclassified forests are under private or communal ownership, and depleted so badly that large areas of such-so called ‘forests’ are devoid of
Types of Forest
Northern and North-Western Mountain Forests
These are mostly evergreen coniferous softwood forests, with some broadleaf species growing on the lower altitudes. The principal coniferous trees include fir, deodar, blue pine and spruce, and they grow generally at altitudes of 3,000-12,500 ft. Above the tree-line (12,500 ft.), there are stunted alpine forests. Below 3,000 ft. there are some pines but more broadleaf trees, such as oak, maple, birch, walnut, and chestnut.
Coniferous forests constitute the main source of commercial lumber, obtained by felling trees from the more accessible parts of the groves on the lower slopes of the hills. In the future, with the construction of access roads, their economic exploitation will improve. The deodar tree is particularly useful as a source of timber for houses and for railway sleepers. Broadleaf species, like oak, walnut and chestnut, are used in the manufacture of furniture.
Shrub Forests of the Foothills and Plains
Shrub forests are found over large areas in the northern and north-western foothills and plains. The principal species are acacia, wild olive, and mesquite. These are mostly found in the Districts of Peshawar, Mardan, Kohat, Campbellpur (now Attock), Rawalpindi, Jhelum and Gujrat. Their yield in firewood is very small.
The Baluchistan Hill Forests
In the Quetta and Kalat divisions of Baluchistan there are some dry hill forests at altitudes between 3,000 and 10,000 ft. The trees include Chilghosa pines and pencil junipers. In 1972/3, a small beginning was made, at a cost of Rupees 4.6 million, to improve the forests of Baluchistan by stabilizing sand-dunes in Pasni and Gawader and planting trees along 150 miles of highway.
Riverine Bela Forests and Irrigated Plantations
These are high-yielding commercial units of hardwood species. They contain planted shisham, mulberry and acacia trees. Shisham is a high-quality cabinet wood extensively used for high-quality furniture. Changa Manga Forest near Lahore is the largest of the irrigated forest plantations. First established about 100 years ago, it now covers 12,500 acres and has an annual yield of 10 cubic feet of timber and 250 cubic feet of firewood per acre. This yield is some ten times that of natural forests in Pakistan. Other sizeable irrigated plantations are Wan Bachran in the Thal area, Chichawatni in Sahiwal District, and some parts of Ghulam Mohammad and Gudu Barrages. Linear plantations are found along river banks and irrigation canals, roads and railways.
The planted acreage is still relatively small. In Punjab Province, of a total forested area of 1.05 million acres in 1971/2, only 256,000 acres were in irrigated, and 30,000 in linear plantations.
The Rakhs are dry scrub forests grown in small patches on the arid plain. They provide insignificantly small quantities of fuel wood. Species include farash, bakain, jand, and karil.
These occur in the coastal wastelands from Karachi to Kutch, covering an area of approximately 750,000 acres. These forests are of the mangrove type, with trees of stunted growth, and produce some fuel wood for use in Karachi.
The average annual demand for timber is Pakistan has been estimated at 6.5 million cubic feet. The gap between supply and demand results in high prices for timber. Similarly, the estimated annual requirement for firewood is 450 million cubic feet, on the basis of a per capita need of about 10 cubic feet. Supply amounts only to about 17 million cubic feet. The deficiency is met by burning cowdung and anything else that grown above soil level. Such a practice is clearly harmful to the regeneration of trees and shrubs.