The Punjab government has recently lowered the categories of nearly one hundred reserved forests in the province, designating them category-B forests from category-A. These forests are now fair game for logging and mining. This development has taken place in a province where tree cover has declined from 7.5 percent to 3.3 percent over the last two decades. On May 9, a gazette notification to downgrade category-A forests was issued by the outgoing provincial government, just three weeks before its tenure ended. The forests that have been downgraded to category-B and category-C include 86 forests in northern Punjab, that is; Chakwal, Attock, Jhelum, Khushab and Rawalpindi districts. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) was quick in allowing cutting of trees and mining in Kharimar Forest in Rawalpindi. Forests covering a total of 1,556 acres of Margalla Hill Forest in Rawalpindi South Forest Division have been placed in Category-C, opening the way for their destruction. The Punjab Forest Act of 1927 did not allow the provincial government to change the category of any forest, so an amendment to the law was made to pave the way. In February 2016, the Punjab government had amended the Punjab Forest Act of 1927 clearing the way for the devastation of protected forest lands that would certainly have an adverse effect on the province’s biodiversity. The Punjab Forests (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 repealed the Sections 27 and 34-A of the previous act. Subsection-3 was also added to it, according to which the provincial government, after having the approval of the provincial cabinet, can use preserved forestland as it pleases. The province’s declining rate of forest cover, 2,900 hectares per year, is already alarming. In 2012, the Pakistan Forest Institute highlighted that the province’s forest cover has dwindled from 0.61 million hectares to 0.55 million hectares over the last 20 years The amendments in the Forest Act and the follow-up conversion of category-A forests to category-B is in contravention to Pakistan’s international commitments. A groundbreaking deal was struck at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in December, 2015 in Paris which Pakistan signed along with over 190 countries. The COP21 acknowledges the significance of forests, and recognises the significance of incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests. Punjab’s downgrading of forests also stands in contravention of the commitments made by the Punjab province at the time of framing of the National Forest Policy (2015). This policy urges the provinces to expand forest cover, integrate economies with forestry, curb deforestation, and encourage conservation of existing forests. Instead of conserving protected forests, the Punjab government has done the opposite by allowing cutting of trees and mining in protected forest lands. Since 1947, the Punjab has deprived 40,352 hectares of forest land of protection. The 2010 amendment to the Act ended the identification of reserved and protected forests. This was a milestone when it came to forest conservation in the province. The revocation of this had a detrimental effect on species dependant on forests. Many such species are locally categorised as critically endangered. Habitat protection and availability is crucial to ensuring their survival. Constricting habitats would exacerbate conflicts between wildlife and communities. The Common Leopard, Grey Goral, Barking Deer, Punjab Urial and a large variety of birds are amongst the animals that could suffer loss of habitat. The province’s declining rate of forest cover, 2,900 hectares per year, is already alarming. According to the Pakistan Forest Institute in 2012, the province’s forest cover has dwindled from 0.61 million hectares to 0.55 million hectares over the past 20 years. Officially, at present, the province has 3.3 percent of its area reserved as protected forest land, which falls short of international standards, but independent experts say the cover is now merely 2.5 percent. Forests in Punjab are threatened by land grabbing and timber mafias besides deforestation owing to other reasons. For example, in Murree, the GIS images of various areas, including the Murree Highway route, indicates rapid deforestation with population growth being considered the primary major reason behind it. Thousands of trees have been cut during the last 10 years in Lahore city alone for widening of roads, flyovers and metro train. The government has failed to protect old woodlands (Zakheera, a word used to be taught in primers in the good old days) around big cities like Lahore and allowed real estate groups to annihilate these lands for housing colonies. Forests must be conserved not just in Punjab but all of Pakistan. Overs the last two decades, Pakistan has lost 7.3 million hectares of forests and ranks fifth in the list of countries with the largest deforestation rates in the world. Out of the nine forest types identified in Pakistan, three were disappearing alarmingly fast. These included mangrove forests; which are used as animal feed, coniferous forests found at high altitudes which are being chopped down for firewood and construction and riverine forests that are being cut down to create infrastructure. The outgoing PML-N government downgraded the category of protected forests in order to favour its political allies with mining contracts. The present rulers need to review and rescind this catastrophic decision or at least suspend action on it until the new elected government takes charge. The writer is a Lahore-based journalist and works as an analyst for Samaa News television Published in Daily Times, June 28th 2018.