Everything is just pine
By Gurjeet Kaur

Pinus roxburghii (Chir pine) is among the most ubiquitous conifers in the Himalayan region and is native of India. Himalayan forests were once a healthy mix of both broad-leaved (eg. oak) and needle-leaved (conifer) trees, but vast areas of oak, sal and deodar were cut for timber during colonial rule. By the twenties century, pine plantation was further encouraged for resin.

Its fast growth, and the fact that it requires little care made the chir pine a prime candidate for ambitious government-led afforestation drives, with the result that this species dominates today’s Himalayan treescape. Although pine plantations were stopped around a decade ago, it has fast replaced the endemic mixed broad-leaved and other conifer varieties.

Since then, the Uttarakhand forest department in tandem with several local NGOs, is planting 400,000 oak and broad-leaved tree saplings each year. But it may be too little too late to stem the spread of this hungry pine tide.

There is a conflict between the ecological impact and commercial gain. People fear losing the endemic tree but must accept exotic species to meet the commercial demand. Weighing the pros and cons of conifers, we have to create an ecological balance somewhere.

Pros Cons
Hardy, adapted to degraded sites Spreads rapidly from hill base to top
Easily rehabilitates exposed sites where broad leaved species rarely succeed Seeds are winged, easily carried off by wind and have an almost 100 per cent germination rate
Staying in chir pine forests is recommended for the asthma patients Xerophytic, can thrive in scarce water areas
Yields resin and turpentine As it cannot absorb much water, renders hill slopes arid
Needles used for livestock bedding, packing wool, and tiny hand brooms Provides little canopy, no undergrowth of grass, leading to more erosion
Bark chips of, or chhilla used for lighting Needles (Pirul) forms thick mat and takes a long time to decompose
(4-5 years)
Easily carvable bark is to make lids for vessels, fuel for furnaces Resin is inflammable and a major cause of forest fires in the Himalayas
Wood of old pine trees, Jhutki, easy to ignite as it never gets wet due to the crystallization of resin. Useful as aromatic firewood. Pirul is acidic in nature, not used as fodder and thus prevents growth of other plants in the vicinity

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