Carbon Storage and Tribal Races of Forgotten Forests Helps in Climate Solutions

Gautam Kumar Das

Forgotten forests, in general, are the most threatened forest where floral commensalism factors and functional approach among the species are still unknown to all. Typically composed with the Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests types, the forgotten forests are scattered as completely isolated forest patches in different parts of the districts in West Bengal with a huge carbon store in the subsoil. The seasonal phenomenon of the dry forests is associated with the grasslands which are partially dried during the winter but provide fodder to the herbivores living in the forests. Jaldapara, once a larger forest by area in the Dooars, is a striking example of such forgotten forest. In Jaldapara, Jalda tribal races once lived but they meandered towards Bhutan, though the stead name of Jaldapara exists still in their name. Jalda, Tharu, Dhimal like tribal races were not only inhabitants in the present days Dooars, but they also saved the forest areas generations after generations living among the ferocious animals. Forest areas of the Dooars was once the abode of Koch, Mech and Tharu tribal races at a time which are evidenced by the name of places with ‘Guri’, ‘Bari’ and ‘Dabri’ syllables as pronounced and used by the ‘Tharu’ community. The tribal race, Dhimal was also influential in this area as reflected from the village names like Mallikhat, Mallikpara etc which were originated from the name of that tribal race. Dhimal, the tribal community, once carried such Mallik title, presently having no existence like Tharu, Jalda etc in this area. Jalda, Tharu, Dhimal like tribal races are completely absent from the area perhaps due to mingle with the local denizen or migration towards hilly region towards the north, although the rest of the tribal races, still existing in the present days, are engaged in the tea estates, and a few are visible in and around the forest areas. The present tribal races like Santal, Malpahari, Kheria, Munda, Oraon, Chik, Baraik, Magar, Ho, Khasi, Korhoy etc. of the Dooars area are accompanied by the son of the soil like Mech, Rava, Garo, Toto, Dukpa, Boro, Hazong, Kachhari etc. Other tribal races like Rai, Limbu, Mongor, Tamang, migrated from Nepal used to share their livelihoods including social and cultural affairs with the Koch, Mech and Rajbangshi community. Tribal races, still living surrounding the Dooars, like forest, love forest, and worship the trees of the forgotten forest. Forgotten forest, the pristine forest in nature and once the denizen of the tribal community is the most precious one with its large soil carbon storage in the subsoil carbon pool through the carbon sink from the atmosphere.

Let us see the state of carbon stored in the forest floors in the form of soil carbon which plays an important role in the mitigation of the climate change. Soil carbon consists of soil organic matter and inorganic carbon as carbonate minerals and stored in the forest soils in the form of solid terrestrial matter. Soil carbon is often referred to a carbon sink in the continuous process of the global carbon cycle and it is causally related to the biogeochemical cycles. The soil carbon accumulated to form storage or reservoir of carbon, referred to as carbon pool, has the capability to lock or release carbon. If the soil carbon is transferred from one carbon pool to another, the process is to be called as carbon flux and for a specified time when the carbon is stored as soil carbon without such transfer or release, it is then termed as carbon stock. Absorption of carbon from the atmospheric carbon dioxide is referred to carbon sequestration and inclusion of that carbon to the carbon pool is said to be the carbon uptake. Carbon is removed through the sequestration of the atmospheric carbon dioxide and such removal of carbon from the atmosphere is referred to as carbon sink. A carbon pool is converted to a carbon sink in a specific time interval when the process of carbon inflow is exceeded the carbon outflow and on contrary, carbon pool is referred to as a carbon source if the carbon outflow exceeds the carbon inflow. Thus, the carbon pool can be a carbon source if the carbon pool releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. And all these soil carbon related phenomena form the carbon budget which is measured with the estimation of carbon stocks and carbon fluxes. Further, atmospheric carbon dioxide is referred to as brown carbon, bye-products of the combustion of fossil fuels are black carbon, carbon stored in the subsoils of the terrestrial natural forests is said to be as green carbon, and the carbon sink in the mangrove swamps and marshes, aquatic and marine environment is referred to as blue carbon. Such blue carbon is stored in huge amount in the subsoils of the mangrove swamps and marshes of the Sunderbans, a typical pristine forest, though a very few species of the mangroves are deciduous in nature. In the land systems, the amount of carbon sequestered and stored as the green carbon depends on the amount in the standing biomass, recalcitrant carbon remaining in the soil, and carbon removal in the wood products. Green carbon and blue carbon are stored side by side along the coastal stretch of Digha – Rasulpur of the Purba Medinipur district where casuarina tree stands on the land and mangroves in the tidal flood plain exist together, and this combination of casuarina and mangroves appearances is dominant particularly at Hijli in the coastal belt of Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal. All these criteria favour the forgotten forests to accumulate more carbon and thus form an enriched carbon storage in the subsoils of the forest floors. Thus, the soil carbon plays an important role in the global climate models that helps in the mitigation of the climate change which is a world-wide phenomenon in the recent times.

Dooars, a forgotten forest, is to be considered as a huge green carbon storage in its subsoils. Like Dooars, the world known mangrove forests of Sunderbans having a huge storage of blue carbon which is a pristine forest in nature. Once covered with about 25,500 sq km areas (in India and Bangladesh), the Indian part of the Sunderbans has now only 2108.11 sq km areas of mangrove covered forests as recorded in the India State of Forest Report 2019. Sunderbans not only enriched with blue carbon in its previous areas of about 25,500 sq km, but carbon is locked in the subsoils in the form of peat of the mangrove trunks and roots still visible in any dug out events like excavation of ponds, canals, or in the dugout trenches for the house constructions. Tribes who cleared the jungle are now sided to an edge; they are simply deprived from the promise given to them by the then landlords particularly the jamindar (landlords) class prior to the independence of India. Tribes are also forgotten in the forgotten forests who the original inhabitants of this pristine forest were. And the last and not the least, different facial characteristics of the different tree species are noticed in the forgotten forests, perhaps they are seeking not to be forgotten any more or uttering in silence with a sole appeal forget me not.

Nov 14, 2020

 Gautam Kumar Das

Your Comment if any