Tamil Nadu is endowed with rich natural and cultural heritage. First systematic attempt in exploiting the timber, mainly teak from the Madras Presidency’s forests commenced in the first decade of 19th century with the appointment of Watson as the Conservator. Though the forest exploitation continued for half a century thereafter without a formal administrative arrangement, it was only in 1856 Forest Department was formed in the Presidency with the appointment of Dr. Cleghorn as its Conservator of Forests. With Dr. Brandis, a trained forester, at the helm as India’s first Inspector General of Forests, formation of a forest organization in the Union and in all Presidencies was pursued in right earnest. Unabated harvest of timber trees, initial attempts in regeneration of felled areas, reservation of forests as Government property under the provisions of the Madras Forest Act, 1882, were the main developments in the second half of 19th century.
The management principles followed by the British foresters aimed to obtain maximum yield of forest produce and surplus forest revenue to the State. Commencement of scientific forestry received an impetus with the introduction of a system of preparation of comprehensive Working Plans for divisions in the early 20th century. The first National Forest Policy 1894 continued to be the basis for forest management in the Presidencies till the country’s independence. A bold attempt of placing nearly one sixth of the Madras Presidency’s forests with Forest Panchayats in the 1920s proved disastrous sand such forests had to be handed back to the Forest department around independence in a much depleted State. Forest management after independence broadly relied on the 1952 National Policy. On the State’s reorganization on linguistic basis in the mid-1950s, large parts of timber forests went to Karnataka and Kerala. The quality of major portion of forest capital left with Madras State needed to be improved though regeneration efforts that received fund support from the Five Year Plan allocations. Despite being a major non-tax revenue earning sector, Forest department put a halt to its timber harvest and fuel coupe operations in the mid 1980s paving way for the beginning of conservation forestry.
This period coincided with the promulgation of the third National Forest Policy in 1988 that laid emphasis on the role of forests in providing ecological security and on people-inclusive forest management. The State took major initiatives which produced positive results in eco-restoration of State’s degraded forests, besides significant improvement in the livelihoods of forest dwelling and forest fringe communities. These are reflected in the biennial assessment of Forest and tree cover by the Forest Survey of India. In the sphere of wildlife conservation too, the State has achieved important milestones with sizeable addition to the Protected Area network and continuous increase in the population of many flagship species.
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