A. Physical environment
Forests are the most important resource and revenue earner for NWFP. It is generally over-exploited and under-managed, resulting in an adverse impact on the livelihood of the dependent population as well as threatening the wildlife and ecological systems. The biodiversity of the province is being rapidly depleted. Open range-land, inside and the outside the forests, is overgrazed and is thus in urgent need of adequate and appropriate management. Using satellite imagery, the forestry sector master plan for 1992 estimated the forested area of NWFP at 1.490 million hectares.
The forest area under the control of the NWFP Forestry Department (1993) totals about 1.450 million hectares, about 50 per cent of which is managed by the Forestry Department through its forestry management plans. The remaining area is either covered with sparse vegetation, or is just barren land which is listed as forest in the land revenue records.
An estimated 7 per cent of the total forest area of the province comprises reserved forests owned by the government. The people living nearby have few legal rights to them. However, controlled grazing is permitted as a concession. Another 35 per cent of the forest area constitutes protected forests owned and managed by government. The local people have substantial rights to the use of timber for personal use and for grazing, as well as a 60 to 80 per cent share in the proceeds from the sale of produce. Guzara forests, which make up about 38 per cent of the total forest area of the province are privately-owned by families or groups of families. Under the authority of the Hazara Forest Act, 1936, the Forestry Department can regulate cutting in those areas as they are either managed by the Department or (since 1981) forest cooperatives. The other 20 per cent comprises miscellaneous wooded areas including Forestry Department afforestation projects on private and communal land predominantly for watershed management and block plantation or as part of social forestry projects.
The major types of natural vegetation and wildlife habitats of the province, which are diverse and thus very important from the environmental and natural resources points of view, are discussed below.
(a) Permanent snowfields and cold deserts
This region includes the highest parts of NWFP above 4,000 m in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush ranges in Hazara, Swat and Chitral. It is also known as a cold desert with low vegetation cover which includes species such as dwarf Salix spp. and Forbs Mertentia tibetica, Potentilla desertorem.
(b) Alpine zone
Alpine zone forests, which occur at the height of 3,350 to 3,660 m above sea level in the areas above the tree-line in Hazara and Malakand Divisions, are further divided into two sub-categories.
The first sub-category occurs below glaciers and areas where snow-melt provides more stable conditions, often with good growth of grasses and sedges, and forbs such as Saxifrage sibirise, Potentella spp. Primola spp. and Poligonum spp. The second sub-category comprises scrub and birch forest in narrow belts at the lower edge of the Alpine zone (3,000 to 3,500 m) descending to lower altitudes in ravines. Characteristic tree species are Betula Utilis, Salix spp., Myricaria Rhododendron anthropogon,
Juniper communis, and Hippophae rhamnoides, with a ground layer of grasses and herbaceous plants.
(c) Dry temperate coniferous forest
Dry temperate coniferous forest is found in the drier inner ranges of the Himalayas where there is less monsoon influence, in Hazara, the upper Kaghan valley, the Siran and Allai valleys, and the districts of Kohistan, upper Swat, Dir-Swat Kohistan and Chitral. Dominant tree species include Picea smithianna, Pinus Wallichiana and Cedrus deodara with an underlayer of Indigofera gerardiana, Sambucusebulus, Sarbaria tomentosa and Plecanthrus rugosus.
(d) Himalayan moist temperate forest
Himalayan moist temperate forests are found in Hazara, on slopes between 1,525 to 3,660 m which receive high monsoon rainfall, mainly in the Gialiat, the lower Kaghan valley, and southern parts of the Palas valley (Kohistan district). This type of forest is a mixture of deciduous and coniferous tree species including Pinus wallichiana, Abies pidrow Quercus dilatata, Acer caesium, Populus ciliata, Prunus padus, Taxus bacatta, and Aesculus indica, with a dense underlayer of Berberis spp. Lonicera spp., Viburnum spp, and Skimmia anquitilia.
(e) Subtropical pine forest
This type of forest is found in a fairly narrow zone between 900 to 200 m along the southern flank of the Himalayan mountains in Hazara (lower Galis and Mansehra) and the lower Swat valley. The dominant trees are Pinus roxburqi and Quercus incana, with an underlayer of Berberis spp. Cotoneaster spp., and clumps of grasses.
(f) Tropical deciduous forest
In NWFP this type of forest is restricted to the Margala Hills bordering the federal capital territory. It is associated with tropical Indo-Malayan tree species, including Bauhinia variegata, Shoria robusta, Ficus caria, Cassia fistula, Salmalia malabarica, and Lania coromandilica, with an underlayer of Dodonia viscosa, Woodfordia fruticosa and Carisa spinarum. A number of Indo-Malayan bird and mammal species are found in this zone.
(g) Alpine dry steppe
Alpine dry steppe forest in northern latitude occurs in the valleys of lower Chitral, Dir and the northern district of Kohistan. Vegetation consists of scattered trees, including Juniper macropoda, policorpo,. Pastacia integrimma, and Quercusilex andpinus wallichiana, with a ground layer of woody shrubs such as Artemisia maritima, Ephedra intermedia, and Barberis spp. Alpine dry steppe forests at intermediate latitudes are found in the far south of NWFP around Takht-i-Sulaiman, on the western border of Waziristan, and further north in parts of Safed koh (Kurram Agency), Malakand and Swat. These areas are sparsely covered with trees such as Junipererus macropoda, Fraxinus xanthoxyloides, Pinus geradiana and Pistacia mutica, with shrubs such as Artimisia maritima, Ephedra nebrodensis and Rosa webbiana.
(h) Arid subtropical forest
This type of forest, found on rocky and hilly areas from sea level to 9,000 m, comprises two types. The first type is subtropical forest with slight monsoon influence, occurring in the hilly areas of eastern Waziristan which experience regular winter frosts and dry hot summers. The area is overgrazed and has a degraded vegetation cover comprising trees such as Acacia modesta and Olea cuspidata, and shrubs such as Dodonea viscosa and Menotheca buxifola. The second type is the Balochistan desert scrub forest which extends throughout most of Waziristan and the lower areas of NWFP. This area experiences very cold winters and no monsoon effects. Degraded scrub vegetation occurs throughout the region, and includes Reptonia buxifolia, Olea cuspidata, Pisticia integrrima, Nannorhops ritchieana and Bromus spp.
(i) Riverain tract
Riverain tracts are restricted to the immediate vicinity of the River Indus, south of Tarbela. Characteristic plants of riverain tracts include Tamarix dioica, Y. aphylla, Populus euphratica and Acacia arabica, and the reed grass, Sacharum spontaneum.