To judge from India’s official surveys, the protection of its forests is a success. Somehow, this resource-hungry country of 1.2 billion people is managing to preserve its rich forests almost intact in the face of growing demands for timber and agricultural land.

But a senior official responsible for assessing the health of the nation’s forests says that recent surveys have overestimated the extent of the remaining forests. Ranjit Gill of the Forest Survey of India (FSI) claims that illegal felling of valuable teak and sal trees has devastated supposedly protected forests in the northeast of the country. He and other experts also say that an over-reliance on inadequate imaging by an Indian satellite system is making such destruction easy to overlook.