Forests in PakistanWritten by Nisar A. Khan
Pakistan forest resources consists, among others, one of the oldest and second largest Juniper forests in the world. Juniper trees are considered among the oldest growing tree species, often termed as living forest fossils, and can live for more than 3000 years. Situated in Suleiman Range of Baluchistan, these Juniper forests grow in extreme dry and rugged environment between elevations 2000-3000 meters.
Overall Pakistan forest resources are limited, covering only 4.8 percent of total land area, which is far below the optimal standard of 25%, forest cover for a country. However scarce, forests of Pakistan are very rich in terms of biodiversity and present a unique blend of tree, shrub, grass and animal species, living across various ecological (climatic) zones from sea level in the south, to high altitude alpine pastures of the north.
Most of the natural forest resources of Pakistan are concentrated in the mountainous regions of the north covering Himalaya, Hindukush and Karakoram ranges, where more than 60% of the country natural forest resources are found. The rest of forestry resource is distributed among the south-western mountains of Baluchistan, plains of Punjab and Sindh and the coastal areas of Arabian Sea in the south.
Ecologically Pakistan is distributed into nine ecological zones depending mainly on moisture availability, temperature, elevation and soil conditions. The broader classification of ecological zones of Pakistan consists of Alpine zone, Temperate zone, Sub-Tropical and Tropical zones and Costal zone. Each ecological zone offers specific environmental, topographic and climatic conditions required to support particular trees and plants species.
This greater variety of climatic conditions of Pakistan is a natural gift and is greatly enriching its biodiversity of flora and fauna. Based on the distribution of these specific ecological conditions the forests of Pakistan are classified into nine major forest types, which, for the sake of simplicity, can be clustered into five broader groups, as described below;
Alpine forests of Pakistan are found at very high elevations in the mountainous regions of Himalaya, Karakoram and Hidukush. The timberline, or elevation limit of tree growth, is exceptionally high in these mountains, rising upto 4000 m above sea level. These forests are subdivided into Sub Alpine forests, Alpine scrub and Alpine pastures. The Sub Alpine forests grow to the tree limit and due to harsh climatic conditions tree density is low and growth is stunted.
Alpine scrubs include shrub formations 1 m to 2 m high extending 150 m or more above the sub-alpine forests. Alpine pastures are situated above the tree line of 4000 meters, where growing season is very short and vegetation mainly consists of perennial, herbaceous plants. These high altitude pastures are found mostly in the northern districts of Gilgit, Diamer, Chitral and Skardu.
These are mostly evergreen natural forests of conifers, growing between elevations of 1500-4000 meters above sea level in the northern mountainous regions of Pakistan and Kashmir. Economically coniferous forests are more important as they are Pakistan’s major sources of commercial timber.
Ecologically temperate forests of Pakistan are sub-divided into moist and dry temperate, depending on the rainfall. In moist temperate zone high summer rainfall occurs where mountain masses stand exposed to the moist southwest winds.
Moist temperate forests of Pakistan are concentrated in the northern districts of Muree and Galiat hills, Kaghan valley, Kashmir region, Allai valley, Siran valley and Swat Valley etc.
On the other hand Dry temperate forests grow at the same altitude, as the moist temperate, but receive little of no summer rains. These forests are mostly found in the northern districts of Dir, Chitral, Kohistan, Diamer and Gilgit etc. However some of the dry coniferous forests are also found in the Sulaiman Range of Balochistan where Chilghoza pine and Juniper grow in the extreme dry environment.
These forests are found in the lower reaches of Himalya, Hindukush and Sulaiman Ranges between 600-1700 m above sea level. These forests are subdivided into sub tropical broad-leaved forest and sub tropical pine forests. Broad leaved forests grow in the lower most reaches between 600-1000 m, and consists of drought resistant species. These sub tropical broad leaved forests cover fairly large area of about 1,191,000 ha.
On the other hand Sub-tropical pine forests are found at little higher altitude1000-1700 m, meeting the temperate forests at the upper end. Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) is the major specie found.
Dry Tropical Forests
Fairly large areas (2/3) of Pakistan fall under the dry tropical zone consisting of Indus plains in Punjab and Sind and low hills in southern and western Balochistan. The climatic conditions varies from semi-arid (250-750 mm rainfall) to arid (<l250 mm rainfall). The summer temperature in zone goes up to as high as 50oC. Dry Tropical Forests of Pakistan can be categorized in to two groups’ i.e. tropical thorn forests and tropical dry deciduous forests. Tropical thorn forests mainly consist of low and scanty trees and shrubs of thorny species. This type occupies the whole of the Indus plain except the driest parts. On the other hand Tropical dry deciduous forests consist of almost entirely of deciduous species. These forests do not occur extensively in Pakistan but are limited to the Rawalpindi foothills.
Coastal (Mangrove) Forests
These are also known as Mangrove forests and are found in the Indus delta and coastal areas of Arabian Sea around the coast of Karachi and Pasni in Balochistan. The main species found is Avicennia marina, which grows in low height. According to estimates, these forests cover an area of 207,000 ha.
There are two additional catagories of forests in Pakistan i.e. Riverain Forests and Irrigated Forests. The Riverain Forests grow on the banks and dry bed of Indus River and are mostly found in Sindh and to some extent in the Punjab. The Irrigated forests were raised by the than colonial regime in 19th century to meet demand for fuel wood. Mostly found in Punjab these irrigated plantations cover about 226,000 ha.
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