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We have a story up today from Anuradha Varanasi on the colonial history of pine trees in the Himalayas, the ecological problems they present, and the way pine needles could be used as a climate solution.
“Since the late 1800s, under British rule, native oak and deodar forests were razed for more than a century to build India’s extensive railway network and for other commercial purposes,” Varanasi writes. “For procuring resin in the 20th century, the British opted for large-scale pine plantations instead of re-planting native oak trees, which are resistant to wildfires. Not only do pine trees grow rapidly, but they also deplete groundwater, modify soil properties, and prevent the growth of other native trees, shrubs, and grass."
"'The pine forests act as bombs waiting to explode by the smallest of spark,' said Pavan Vyas, a fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & Environment (ATREE). 'Even when dry pine needles are lit in the form of controlled burns, they spread rapidly owing to the accumulation of pine needles on the forest floor as thick as 24 centimeters, causing forest fires which are hard to tackle without adequate infrastructure.'"
Now, the needles are being collected by groups of women and converted to bio-pellets.