'Tree Fern', a rare plant species found in Bailadila hills of Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district, is facing the threat of extinction owing to mining activities in the area, environment experts have warned.
Bailadila hills, the famous mountain range in the southern tip of Chhattisgarh, is known for its rich high grade iron ore reserves at a height of 1,260 m above sea level. It is also home to number of medicinal and endangered plant species.
However, experts feel that the mining activities by a public enterprise in the hills have become a curse for the rare and endangered plant species in the periphery, including the tree fern.
"I have witnessed the disappearance of Lycopodium and Selaginella plant species from Bailadila mountain range due to excavation. Now tree fern also faces the threat of extinction," Dr H K S Gajendra, Zoologist at Kirandul Government College, told PTI.
Presently, tree fern is found in reserve forests lying between iron ore deposits number 5 and 11 in Bailadila range.
Tree fern looks just like a palm tree as it has a trunk and leaf fronds on shoot tip. It has spores on the underside of leaves that are used for reproduction. It is mostly found in the downhill area as cool climate and moisture are ideal for its growth, Gajendra said.
"Not much study has been done here on tree fern, therefore people hardly know about its importance. It is a very important plant in life sciences as it helps to study how plants evolved and developed on the earth," he said.
"The development of tree fern is very slow. It attains a height of 8-10 feet in 200-300 years. The grown ferns found in Bailadila hills are nearly 500 years old," he claimed.
As per studies, fern species plants belong to the 'Jurassic period' when dinosaurs existed on earth. Hence, the plant is very important from research point of view as well, he said.
Earlier, the plant was found in most part of the Bailadila hills, but now it has been confined only to reserve forests (under Bacheli Range) on the hills along Gali Nullah (rivulet), he said.
"The excavation has not only destroyed the endangered plants in the area, but has also disturbed the atmosphere ideal for its survival," the zoologist said.
However, a senior forest official said efforts are on to preserve tree fern in Bailadila.
Presently, there are about 327 tree ferns in Bacheli forest range, as per the forest department's latest count.
"We have asked the mining company to rope in researchers and scientists to undertake study of tree fern as it is found only in Bailadila hills across Chhattisgarh. We have asked them to go for its tissue culture," Forest Range Officer, Bacheli Range, Vinay Chakraworty said.
As per experts, the threat is looming large with the PSU planning to float requisition for mining lease in deposit number 4, the same area where tree ferns are presently found. The deposit number 4 has nearly 108 tonne million reserves of iron.
As of now no mining operations are underway in the reserve forests area that falls between deposit number 5 and 11 where the plant species are found.
"Earlier, the company had planned to apply for mining on 741 hectare of area of deposit number 4, but now it has reduced it by 76 hectare as tree fern reserve area was falling under the pre-decided plan. It will take time to start as they need to get forest clearance and fulfil other requirements before getting lease for mining in the area," Chakraworty said.
Concerned over the danger of survival of the plant, an activist has sought a study on the impact of mining on tree fern plant species.
"The situation is alarming as the surrounding of tree fern has already squeezed to a small area and if rampant mining continues, the plant species will only be a matter of study in books," Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan convenor Alok Shukla said.
The forest department should conduct a detailed study on the impact of mining on tree fern and based on that further mining lease should be sanctioned, he suggested.