Ecological and anthropogenic niches of sal (Shorea robusta Gaertn. f.) forest and prospects for multiple-product forest management

Sal (Shorea robusta Gaertn. f.) forests cover over 11 million ha in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and these forests are conventionally managed for timber. Recently, interest in producing multiple products from sal forests has increased; accordingly, a silvicultural regime for managing sal forest for multiple products is a central concern. Forest managers need a comprehensive scientific understanding of natural stand development processes and anthropogenic factors affecting sal forest when designing silvicultural regimes for multiple-product management. We review ecology and productivity plus anthropogenic niches of sal forests. Information on edaphic factors, phenology and stand development processes (regeneration, growth characteristics, soil nutrient requirement, growth allocation, nutrient cycling, stand structure and successional stages) is important for designing scientific forest management of sal forest; likewise, knowledge of anthropogenic factors associated with use of sal forest is also required for effective implementation of the recently paradigmed management efforts. Sal forest silviculture has been evolving since the beginning of the twentieth century mainly concentrating on timber production, though the sal forests have always been used also for grazing and collection of fodder, fuelwood, litter and many other products. Instead of integrating these products in sal forest management, governments have attempted to control these additional uses through enforcing forest legislation. These attempts resulted in the persistent conflicts between the interests of local people and the government, and the deteriorating condition of sal forests. Community-based forestry in this region emerged in response to the severe degradation of forest resources, and local people initiated protection practices and demonstrated the success of sal forest from coppice. The coppice systems allow managing forests with intermittent products (non-timber forest products, including fodder and litter) while producing timber in the long term. Accordingly, a policy has been developed to manage coppice sal forest for multiple products. Managing the sal forest for multiple products is, however, a relatively recent development and scientific investigations on various aspects of multiple-product forest management need to be initiated. Ecological processes indicate good prospects of managing sal forest for multiple products. The review indicates that the ecological processes and anthropogenic factors form sound basis for developing multiple-product management.