It was not until the advent of the British that forests of Sindh received attention for their scientific management because the erstwhile British rulers required considerable quantities of wood for Indus Steam Flotilla. After 1843, the game preserves or shikargahs of their native predecessors became the nucleus of managed forests in Sindh. These shikargahs were fenced by the Mirs of Sindh to provide sufficient tree cover for the protection of wildlife and to prevent browsing by cattle and ruminants. This practice kept the forests demarcated with well-defined boundary marks and unbounded by customary or prescriptive rights of the neighbouring population on the one hand, and, on the other, as was observed a quarter of a century later in his report by Mr. Brandon, a famous pioneer in forestry who toured Sindh in 1867-68, "fairly stocked with trees and shrubs" through a "very good" rate of "growth and natural reproduction."
Supervising of Sindh forests by regular Forest staff began in 1847, when the first Forest Officer was appointed. It was followed in 1861 by the introduction of a semblance of scientific forest management. In 1871 Dr. Schlick became the first Conservator of Forests, who organised the department on scientific footing, managing 975 sq ml or 2,525.25 sq km (25,525 ha). Eventually, in 1877-78, systematic management was undertaken and working plan prepared mainly catering for the railways, which used wood for fuel and sleepers.
Under the working plan, generally emulating the practice of the Mirs, a third of each forest area was closed to grazing thereby ensuring their regeneration. Another measure was to expel maldars (cattle owners) from a forest, in which a special block was burnt, and not letting them return unless they restored the burned fences and cleared a certain area of land as a protective belt.
In 1877-78, there were 24,529 ha of riverine forests maintained in highly satisfactory condition. At this time initial experiments for the introduction of some exotic species were undertaken, and following exotics are reported to have been successfully raised in Rahuja Nursery of Sukkur: Teetona grandis (Teak), Terminalia tomentosa, pterocarupus marsupium. Sehleiehera trijuga, Dalbergia latifolia (black wood), Anogeissus latifolia, Ceratonia siliqua and Prosopis glandulosa.
While the forest administration and management continued almost on similar lines, administration of the forests remained with the Chief Conservator of Forests in Bombay Presidency and a Conservator of Forests working in Sindh. Turning point in the Forest history was reached in April 1936, when Sindh became a separate province with constitutional and administrative machinery of its own. Another event of importance which has influence on the forests of Sindh and their management was completion of Lloyd Barrage canal system in 1932. Reduced supplies of flood water in the riverine forests after the construction of Sukkur Barrage led to the policy of raising irrigated plantations. Sindh was one of the leading provinces of the undivided India, which introduced the technique of agrisilviculture. This intensive land use technique has been responsible for raising not only wood plantations but also valuable food crops. The forest area within the Barrage zone was approximately 116,147 ha, of which 89,842 ha were subject to river spill whilst the remaining 26,305 ha required artificial irrigation for development as forest plantations.
There was no great change in the area of reserved and protected forests, the respective figures remaining between 1,100 and 1,200 sq ml or 2,849 and 3,108 sq km (284,900 and 310,800 ha). Upto the time of independence in 1947 only 36 sq ml or 93 sq km (9,300 ha) were added.
Prior to the construction of flood protection bunds along the Indus, the hinterlands including forests were inundated by flood spill. After the construction of the bunds, some of these forests were left outside the bunds and were irrigated through sluices. With the construction of three barrages on river Indus, canals displaced sluices for irrigation of most of these inland (i.e. outside protection bunds) forests.
The forests of Sindh prior to World War II were almost fully stocked. Owing to excessive wartime pressure, the over exploitation of the forests was inescapable, necessitating deviation from the prescribed management practices. This inevitably resulted in over felling and depletion of the resources. On the eve of independence in 1947, Sindh Forest Department managed 269,511 ha of reserved forests and 24,369 ha of protected forests (mainly riverine) under the control of a Chief Conservator of Forests with headquarters at Hyderabad.
The situation became all the more alarming as a consequence of independence as the exodus of population exercised extraordinary demands on the already depleted resources, while the supplies from the adjoining country became totally cut off. There were no other fuel resources such as gas, which was yet to be discovered 25 years later.
Over the period of forty years, the forests of Sindh were managed on the clear felling silvicultural system, which was both rational and suitable. Clear-felled areas of riverine forests, felled one year, were fully regenerated and reclothed the succeeding year as the inundation receded. The most valuable species being Acacia nilotica, the climax succeeded by Prosopis spicigera, which would also reproduce as coppice occupying relatively more arid sandy tracts. The restocking• of clear-felled areas was carried out by natural regeneration from seed and coppice, supplemented by artificial sowings, which include broadcasting, drilling and dibbling.
For the first time ever in the history of this region, aerial seed sowing operation was undertaken in September 1974, when 2,428 ha of riverine area, which was blank but received inundation, was sown with seed from specially equipped aircraft. This pioneering work was such a remarkable success that the technique was standardised, and has been used ever since.
The scientific management and persistently heavy demands on the forests were obviously impossible to reconcile. The rotation had to be reduced. The phenomenon of erosion and accretion combined with siltation of river bed took a toll of younger crops, which too had to be balanced to bring the crops to normalcy. For the Forest managers it was an uphill task.
Within a few years after independence, the coal mining industry in Balochistan, due to expansion, imposed much heavier demand. The province almost totally devoid of forests, apart from depending for its fuel supplies from Sindh, now required much more in the form of pit props.
It was not until 1954 that the vast mangroves at the mouth of Indus delta were recognized to be a vital ecosystem and unique ecologically, as this type of vegetation occurs only in a few arid regions of the world. These forests measuring 0.364 million ha were declared as protected forests in the year 1958. Mangroves apart from providing fuel and fodder, helped reduce the siltation of the Karachi port being at that time the only port of the country. Besides, these forests provided an excellent breeding ground for fish and prawn, which were to become important export items for the country. In addition, these forests afforded an important sanctuary to a host of wildlife. These were, therefore, brought under legal cover as also the rangelands covering an area of 0.457 million ha located in Registan and Kohistan areas.
While this was a great step forward and more area was envisaged to be brought under scientific management, there was also increased land hunger for more food production. Quite irrationally 31,971 ha of inland and/or irrigated forest areas were deforested and land given away mostly to government servants (civil and military). Deforestation at such a large scale subsequently proved to be quite devastating, ruinous and environmentally perilous.
Another far reaching adverse influence exercised on the highly productive riverine forests of Sindh was the construction of dams and barrages on the Indus. The annual inundation water, which was the only source for these forests dramatically decreased. The consequence was that a vast riverine area ceased to receive the vital water supply resulting in steady deterioration of forest crops minimizing the productive as well as protective function of these valuable forests.
Sindh forests suffered from unavoidable though damaging demands after independence, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to restore or revive this wealth. Working under these constraints SFD had no alternative but to increase the intensity of management having to increase production from the remaining forests. This also proved to be a Herculean task because inputs needed were seldom, if ever, made available. There was no realization that revenue yielding was not the primary function of forests and that, instead, the highly trained, motivated professionals should be encouraged to make their contribution to the economic wellbeing of the people, sticking to their time honoured pledge to provide greatest good to greatest number. Under the successive regimes coming to power such high ideals were far the years to strengthen the institution were gradually, but surely, eroded. Sheer production of revenue figures was a departure from professional excellence, which benefited every segment of the society.
The forest service was given the task of developing the roadside and canalside plantations. These linear plantations came right in the public eye but had marginal economic benefits. The management of real forest estate, which holds high economic potential as well as countless intangible benefits, was thus further neglected. On the other hand, the linear plantations, which were brought under the purview of the Forest Act, were to give rise to conflicts with the public, the graziers and the farmers. It proved to be a grave error and a highly professional department was brought into disrepute.
Such then was the scenario of steady decline of forest economy in the years of successive regimes, which weakened the service and its dedication.
It was not until 1971 that the entire forest policy in Sindh came under a meaningful review. The chief executive of the province held rewarding discussions with the professionals as well as the administrators in order to rectify the mistakes of the past and to lay down, and actually laid out, a realistic policy for the development and management of that vital renewable resource, which was likely to bring economic dividends to the people in the years ahead. The new policy has since been translated into concrete actions in organizational as well as functional areas.