Home Articles Working Plans – The Mainstay of GIS in Forestry

Working Plans – The Mainstay of GIS in Forestry

M. K. Yadav
Working Plan Officer, Upper Assam Circle
Jorhat, Assam – 785004
Tel: 0376-322979

Working Plans have always been map based. Merging Working Plans and GIS into a seemless structure would herald the true era of GIS in forestry sector.

GIS as a computer-based system of geographic information has been used by the professionals in the field of forestry, wildlife and environment. It is undisputed that the forestry sector has one of the major use of Remote Sensing (RS) data. Several studies have been conducted successfully by foresters, researchers, scientists, NGO’s, and others for vegetation cover, monitoring of degraded areas, loss of forest cover, forest fires, habitat mapping to mention a few. Several Forest Departments in the country have now established sophisticated GIS and RS facilities. Some states such as Karnataka, MP, WB, Sikkim, and Assam have started preparing Working Plans based on the new technology. The Forest Survey of India, Dehradun has taken a laudable lead in this matter. Already well tested methodologies of sampling, inventorization and interpretation are available with them. However, it is important that the Working Plan and GIS are interfaced properly. The paper proposes to explore the overview of establishing such an interface.

Working Plan
Systematic forestry in India started with the appointment of Mr. Dietrich Brandis, a German forester who had considerable experience of working in the forests of this subcontinent, as the first Inspector General of Forests, Government of India in 1864. Working Plan can be undoubtedly considered as the first “Plan” documents for natural resources planning in India. The Forest Department Code (the 3rd edition, 1885) lays down in great detail the procedure of preparing Working Plans. At the time of writing of that Code itself, several Plans were already in operation.

Working Plan is written for the reserved forests and protected forests owned by the Government. Plans could also be prepared for village forests, private forests, and of late even for JFM areas. Working Plan is written with certain well laid down objects of management of the forest, which could vary considerably from time to time. The Working Plan is composed of Working Circles – each of which is devoted to a particular object of management. A Working Circle is further divided into Blocks, and which in turn are divided into Compartments. Normally, a compartment is the smallest unit of management. In case a compartment is large, it is further split into sub-compartments. Whereas the Working Circle is only conceptually related to ground, the blocks and compartments are actually laid down on the ground with proper delineation. In case felling of timber is involved, each Working Circle is first divided into several Felling Series, which in turn into exploitable annual coupes.

The Working Plan is written in two parts. Part I goes into details of necessary data that are required to take management decisions giving details of geographic location of the area concerned, its geology, rock type etc., describing the condition of the forest resources such as forest type and also exploring the market, pricing and labour as regards forestry sector.

Part II contains the decision themselves, with details of how they have been derived at. It lays down the object of management, and how those objects can be met. For each specific object of management, it creates a Working Circle. When the matter concerns valuable tree forest or special crop such as bamboo, it further divides the Circle into Felling Series, and each felling series into exploitable coupes. In addition, it provides many more prescriptions that are required to manage the forest scientifically, including control forms to regulate in future how the Plan is being executed. It also provides as Annexure or as Part III, all the enumeration data, growth data, stock maps that were used to arrive at the conclusions.

Working Plan as the GIS of traditional forestry
The Working Plan consists of five important data set layers. As the composition of a forest depends on several factors the first set deals with geology which affects the rock types and this in turn is connected with the soil type and ultimately the flora of the region. It also describes the climate the topography and the drainage of the area. Thus this set of data can be called as the almost invariant layers of topography.

The second most important component is the forest themselves for which the plan is being written and it represents the dynamic aspect of the Plan The Forest Types as originally classified, undergo considerable change due to biotic interference, change in management principles and excessive use or abuse of them. Thus, the Working Plans contain in them the transect of change on the time axis.

The third aspect is the economic data attribute, which deals with the pricing of forest produce, their possible markets, and direct or indirect uses of the forest produce. Also related aspect to it is human resources.

The fourth aspect is the actual data i.e. field work, inventorisation, mapping, analysis and interpretation. Conventionally, survey and mapping of resources have been done with the help of prismatic compass and chain. But, the modern technology has changed it all and now aerial photo interpretation, satellite data, stratified grid sampling have been used to arrive at conclusions.

The fifth set of layers originated from the previous Plans, can be said to consist of two broad divisions. The first is the Prescriptions as laid down in the previous Plans, and second their implementation in the field. The entire prescription is broadly based on the National Forest Policy in vogue. Since the earlier policies emphasized on maximizing production of timber, the Plans devised ways and means of doing so. The chief objective was conversion of natural forests into uniform system of valuable forest species by applying suitable silvicultural system. For this purpose the Stock Map was used to classify each compartment into a Working Circle. The Working Circles dealing with the major objects of management such as conversion to uniform system, regeneration, and timber working circles were constituted without overlapping of compartments. Minor Working Circles such as bamboo, cane, minor forest produce etc. were clubbed under Overlapping Working Circles where the compartments already allotted to main Working Circles also could be allotted. It is worth noting that the Working Circles again were mapped based on data set. Each Working Circle was represented on map uniquely with its constituent series and coupes. After having constituted a Working Circle, it was further sub-divided into Series. For timber working, the growing stock was converted into exploitable annual yield on sustainable basis. Accordingly, each Felling Series was further divided into annual coupes that would give the prescribed annual yield. For long Working Plans have been considered synonymous with the prescribed annual yield. Sustained Annual Yield is the culmination point of traditional forestry. That is the reason why Working Plans lost all their significance after the National Forest

Policy of 1988, which lay more emphasis on conservation rather than exploitation.

Strength and weakness
As is evident, a Working Plan is a document of management very closely tied with a particular land parcel. Hence, it is considered too local to be of any use in decision making at higher levels. Mr. A. R. Maslekar has given a very good account of its weaknesses. It says too much too little a place in too technical language. It is clumsy. It cannot be easily integrated into district plans or state level plans. The criteria of judging its success or failure is not well defined, especially when forestry is long term activity with as many elements of uncertainty as, say, in weather forecast for two decades. Several papers alone could not be devoted just to ponder over its merits and demerits.

As the author views the Working Plan from the angle of GIS, he is of the opinion that these are its greatest strength. For correct decision making at the highest level, the database must be built up right from below at the lowest level, which in forestry is the compartment. That is why a seamless integration and infusion is required to be achieved with the help of sophisticated hardware and software.

The job of such integration is conceptually easy. The reason being that the champions of forestry who devised the system of Working Plan were visionaries. With the limited means and little sophistication that was available, more than a century and a quarter ago, they laid the foundations of GIS in forestry – a well layered system of data input, information query and decision making. One needs only to go into little details of the system of Compartment History. A look at the Compartment History would tell you right from its geology to the latest incident of forest and timber theft. There can be few land based management systems better than Working Plans. More so because it carries in it the valuable details of the past for more than a century.

Digital map based Working Plan-the way out
Working Plans have always been map based. Every compartment of the forest have been mapped in all detail on 1inch = 1 mile scale (in most of the divisions of the country). The stock maps have been prepared on the same scale. The conventional Plans are very much in tune with GIS right from data acquisition to decision making. However, instead of laying emphasis on Plans, which are written at great lengths describing details after details, the entire Plan could be produced in form of Digital maps, instead. The various layers of details that could be easily translated into maps with more powerful visual and data content are given below:

  • The Topographic Data Set
  • The Vegetation Data Set
  • The Economic, Social and Administra tive Data Set
  • The Growing Stock Data Set
  • The Decision Making Set

Thus, with such features of GIS software, it would be easy to circumvent the limitations of Working Plans, and make them a meaningful part of a larger database in the forestry sector. The rigidity that the Working Plans are supposed to hold will, then, melt away. Merging Working Plans and GIS into a seamless structure would herald the true era of GIS in forestry sector.