Sahyadri Conservation Series: 24 ENVIS Technical Report: 54,  April 2013
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Kumaradhara River Basin, Karnataka Western Ghats: Need for Conservation and Sustainable Use
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1Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – 560012, India.
2Member, Western Ghats Task Force, Government of Karnataka, 3Member, Karnataka Biodiversity Board, Government of Karnataka
4Member, Tree Authority  Mangalore (Rural),  Government of Karnataka
*Corresponding author: cestvr@ces.iisc.ernet.in
INTRODUCTION
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The Western Ghats of the Indian peninsula constitute one of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots along with Sri Lanka, on account of exceptional levels of plant endemism and by serious levels of habitat loss (Conservation International, 2005). This hotspot contains unique flora and fauna with high levels of endemism along with harboring endemic and threatened species.  High pressures from rising human populations and developmental pressures are taking heavy toll on the region’s biodiversity.  As living resources and diverse kinds of ecosystems the hotpot possess are of vital importance for generations to come the need has arisen to critically evaluate every major intervention into nature and adopt a stand beyond the expediencies of the day.

The flora of Western Ghats comprises about 12,000 species ranging from unicellular cyanobacteria to angiosperms. In this spectrum the flowering plants constitutes about 27% of Indian flora with over 4000 species of which about 1,500 species are endemic. Most of the endemic plants of peninsular India are paleoendemics having found favourable ecological niches in the hill ranges on either side of the Western and Eastern Ghats. The ecological niches in Western Ghats resemble islands so far as the distribution of endemic species is concerned (Nayar, 1996).

The central Western Ghats of Karnataka, from 12°N to 15°N, involving the districts of Coorg, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Hassan, Chikmagalur, Uttara Kannada and Shimoga districts and parts of Mysore, Chamarajanagar and Belgaum, all in Karnataka, and the State of Goa, is exceptionally rich in flora and fauna. Whereas the elevation from 400 m to 800 m, is covered with evergreen to semi-evergreen climax forests and their various stages of degradation, especially around human habitations, the higher altitudes, rising up to 1700 m, in south-west Karnataka are covered with evergreen forests especially along stream courses and rich grasslands in between. South-west Karnataka is extremely important agriculturally and horticulturally. Whereas the rice fields in valleys are irrigated with numerous perennial streams from forested hill-slopes the undulating landscape is used to great extent for growing cash crops, especially coffee, cardamom, coconut, arecanut,  black pepper, cocoa, ginger, rubber, pineapple etc. in addition to various fruit trees and vegetables. Some of the higher altitudes are under cultivation of tea. From the point of productivity, revenue generation, employment potential and subsistence the central Western Ghats are extremely important.

Threats from developmental projects: Despite being a global centre of biodiversity and an island of endemics, home to scores of threatened species, both plants and animals and a ‘water tower’ for peninsular India, sources of livelihoods for millions of families, in the name of development, Western Ghats are subjected extreme human pressures with often irreversible consequences.

Rising threats from hydel projects: Western Ghats being a rich source of perennial rivers is often targeted for mini, micro and large scale hydel projects for electricity generation. Dams as part of these projects have already submerged vast areas of forests and farmlands and grazing areas for domestic animals and wildlife.  Forest fragmentation on a big scale has already happened due to agricultural activities and human settlements. Yet, the Western Ghats continued to sustain sizeable chunks of forests and grasslands facilitating movement of its rich diversity of wild mammals  like elephants, tigers, panthers and gaurs, sambars, chitals and bears and numerous others through corridors providing connectivity. The river valleys, the deep gorges with wooded precipices alongside, the dense riparian forests and numerous natural vegetational patches retained by ancient farmers as devarakadus or sacred kans acted as shelters and corridors for animals

Two months back, elephants have caused serious damages to agriculture in Panja, Kadaba, Mardala and Nujibatila villages and has killed one person at Nakur Gaya Panja village. These instances have increased during the last 2 years due to animal path disruptions in Gundia river basin.

The creation of hydel projects leads to severe fragmentation of forests and disruption of animal corridors, thereby trapping many of the major wildlife species into isolated pockets with threats to the trapped species from genetic depression on account of inbreeding.  Wildlife movements and migrations for food and water and for reaching the limits of the distribution ranges of specific species, through disrupted corridors, often lead to human-animal conflicts. Well known are the elephant-human conflicts in the districts of Hassan and Coorg and in the Haliyal-Mundgod-Yellapur taluks of Uttara Kannada. The decline in the habitats reduce the long term population viability of extinction prone species such as tigers, elephants, lion tailed macaques, etc. Also the construction of roads related to projects makes the rich forests accessible to the outsiders leading to illegal logging of trees and poaching of animals. Canopy openings are also formed in the evergreen forests leading to introduction of alien species and further deterioration of the rich forests. The stagnation of water in the reservoirs created drastically affects the health of the rivers. Excavations, debris dumping and construction activities involved in such projects affect the overall forest environment.

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