The sal forests of Madhya Pradesh are once again facing problems. With the monsoons, there is a renewed onslaught of the sal borer beetle, Hoplocerambix spinicornis, which created havoc in 1997 by infecting more than 31 lakh sal trees worth Rs 1,200 crore. The sal borer epidemic in Madhya Pradesh last year proved to be very costly to the state in terms of forest cover and financial resources. The forests constitute about 25 per cent of the total sal forests in the country.

The forest department officials fear the ordeal of last year would be repeated if the beetle, appearing with the first shower of monsoon continue their raids till the end of September with a fresh lot coming with each shower. The very fact that a large number of beetles have already been spotted in the forests does not seem to be a good sign. However, anti-borer operations are being carried out and about 2.5 lakh borers have been caught already (Down To Earth, Vol 6, No 18).

In the anti-borer operations, 1.5 crore borers were caught in the last monsoon season. However, about 7.8 lakh infected trees had been felled (unofficial figures put it at several tunes more than that) till the Supreme Court put a ban on further felling of the trees. The woes do not end with felling of trees. According to the forest officials, the trees should be removed from the sal forests immediately after felling to prevent the borer from infecting other healthy trees. But removing such a large number of trees is a difficult task which has become more difficult after the neighbouring states put a ban on the entry of the infected timber to their territories.

The larvae of the borer bores into the sapwood, which leads to the death of a tree. The epidemic was first reported in 1905, and then 1915 to 1922 and 1923 to 1924. However, last year's epidemic has put the earlier ones way behind in the loss of forest cover and money.