Issue – Forest fire in Uttarakhand
History of forest fire in Uttarakhand – Earlier also forest fire used to be there but were easily extinguished by locals.
Present scenario – As per the Forest Survey of India data, almost 50% of India’s forest areas are fire prone.
Various reasons for forest fire this year – Natural and Man-made.
Impacts of forest fires – Loss of resource, habitat, wildlife, etc.
Effect on biodiversity – The regular burning of forests has wiped out communities of insects, birds, amphibians and reptiles, besides, of course, most mammals.
Importance of Broadleafs – Fury of the southwest monsoon is broken down into a fine spray by Broadleafs.
How to tackle the problem of frequent forest fire– Dreadlocks, not tresses.
Forest fire in Uttarakhand has affected thousands of acres of forest including National parks like Corbett National Park and Rajaji National park.
History of forest fire in Uttarakhand
Since 1984, the forests of the Western Himalayas have burned every summer. There were forest fires before then, too, but when locals extinguished them, they would remain extinguished. Since 1984, the doused fires spring up as soon as the firefighters return home, fueling a sense of hopelessness. Today, barely anyone attempts to fight a fire, knowing that whatever is salvaged will soon be set ablaze anyway.
In December 2015, the environment ministry released the India State of Forest Report.
According to the report, India’s forest cover is 701,673 sq. km which is about 21.34% of the country. As per the Forest Survey of India data, almost 50% of India’s forest areas are fire prone but this does not mean that fires affect 50% of the country’s area annually.
The major forest fire season in the country varies from February to June. Reports have estimated that about 6.17% of Indian forests are subjected to severe fire damage annually.
Various reasons for forest fire this year
- Natural reasons :
- This year, the major cause is the high temperature and the lack of rainfall. High atmospheric temperatures and dryness offer favourable conditions for a fire to start, but in India several forest fires are human-made for new flush of grass and agricultural practices like shifting cultivation.
- In many forest ecosystems, reduced precipitation before and during the dry season can reduce fuel moisture and lower humidity near the surface, allowing fires to more easily escape from human control, and spread more rapidly over the landscape.
- Low fuel moisture levels also make fires hotter, allow them to consume more fuel, and kill more of the trees inside the fire perimeter.
- El Nino might have played a role. The 2015-16 El Nino which is one of the strongest on record, has turned global weather systems upside down. This dry weather was especially problematic because it intensified seasonal fires, which are intentionally lit by farmers to clear land and manage crops.
- Man – Made reasons :
- Forests are being set on fire with the objective of drying up trees, to keep wood contractors in business. The mafia is allegedly in cahoots with Forest Development Corp. officials, as the latter sells trees via auction, no matter that they are dead or dried up.
As thousands of trees have been burnt, selling them would bring huge revenue to the corporation and benefit the mafia that would buy them.
- The reason for the sudden spurt in forest fires can very likely be traced to a 1981 governmental ban on the felling of green trees above 1,000 m elevation. With permission impossible to obtain, the next best thing was to dry the trees up by foul means, especially for real estate developers, timber contractors, villagers and sundry others.
- Land cleared can be sold in land transfer cases, which also suits builders.
- Forest are also set on fire to stock up fuel wood for winter.
- Chir Pine: Resin is obtained from Chir pine which used in turpentine industry. Thus, pine trees are being grown in this region at the cost of broadleaf forest. Chir pine trees that are prone to catching fire make up 16% of Uttarakhand forests. Pine needles that cover the forest floor are highly combustible. This aggravate forest fire.
Impacts of forest fires
Forest Fires cause wide ranging adverse ecological, economic and social impacts. In a nutshell, forest fires cause following adverse impacts-
- Loss of valuable timber resources and depletion of carbon sinks
- Degradation of water catchment areas resulting in loss of water
- Loss of biodiversity and extinction of plants and animals
- Loss of wild life habitat and depletion of wild life
- Loss of natural regeneration and reduction in forest cover and production
- Global warming resulting in rising temperature
- Loss of carbon sink resource and increase in percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere
- Change in micro climate of the area making it unhealthy living conditions
- Soil erosion affecting productivity of soils and production
- Ozone layer depletion
- Health problems leading to diseases
- Indirect effects on agricultural production: Loss of livelihood for the tribals who directly depend upon collection of non-timber forest products from the forest areas for their livelihood.
Effect on biodiversity
The regular burning of forests has wiped out communities of insects, birds, amphibians and reptiles, besides, of course, most mammals. Broadleaf trees tend to dry up in the wake of regular forest fires.
These are rapidly replaced by the Chir pine, which has very little to offer in the way of food for wildlife. As a result, the only mammals that still survive in any numbers in Uttarakhand are rhesus macaques and wild boar, which are highly adaptable omnivores. They now depend almost entirely on humans for their food, relying on raiding crops and even houses to fill their belly.
Importance of Broadleafs
Dreadlocks were a very apt analogy used by the ancients to evoke an image of Himalayan broadleaf forests. The fury of the southwest monsoon breaks over the ranges every year, but the heavy downpour is met by a dense canopy of leaves and broken down into a fine spray, which percolates into the soil and recharges the springs and streams that water upland forests and villages.
This is the sort of forest that is required to stabilise water systems in the Himalayas. Historically, such forest was the mainstay of Uttarakhand’s economy, for it provided fodder, humus, perennial springs, fuel, food, medicine and all other human requirements. Dense broadleaf forests covered the hillsides and valleys, while poorer soils along the crest of ridges and very steep slopes was colonised by stands of Chir pine.
All this changed with the growing population and European ideas applied to the exploitation of Himalayan forests. A rising population meant greater pressure on forests and European forestry meant entire hillsides were cleared for timber and replanted with commercially useful species, generally Chir pine. The spread of Chir pine was helped by the annual forest fires set during the past 30 years, so that today there are very few strands of healthy broadleaf forests in the middle and outer ranges of Uttarakhand.
How to tackle the problem of frequent forest fire
Now a days “re-afforestation” drives are done by planting trees on a war footing. The truth is that a forest is a self-regenerating community of plants and creatures. If a stand of trees is planted, it is called a plantation, not a forest. A plantation cannot be expected to provide the ecosystem services that a forest provides. The funds that were earlier sanctioned for this purpose would be much better utilised in the national weal if village forest protection squads were to be hired, trained and equipped, and areas important for groundwater recharge fenced and protected by them, so that ‘dreadlock’ forests can grow back.
Moreover a reduction of uneconomical cattle from the hills would help take the burden off forests for fodder. Old age homes for cattle in the plains could be easily supplied with fodder from the funds currently absorbed in ‘forest plantation’ efforts.
Prevention and control measures for forest fires in India
The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India issued guidelines for prevention and control of forest fires to all states in June 2000. Some of those important guidelines or measures of prevention and control of forest-fires in India are-
1.Identification and mapping of all fire-prone area.
2.Compilation and analysis of data-base on the damage due to forest fire.
3.Installation of Forest Danger Rating Systems and Fire-Forecasting Systems.
4.Items of forest protection to be treated as a Plan Item in order to raise their profile and thereby increase their Budget Allocation.
5.All preventive measures are to be taken before the beginning of the fire season like summer season.
6.Recruitment of a Nodal Officer to coordinate with various agencies including the Government of India on issues of forest-fire.
7. A ‘Crisis Management Group’ should be constituted at the state headquarters, district headquarters, and at block levels to monitor the situations during fire period, coordinate various preventive and control measures, and arrange adequate enforcement of men and materials in case of any eventuality.
8.Communication network to be set up for quick flow of information and movement of materials and man-power to the fire site.
9.JFM Committees and Forest Protection Committees are to be actively involved in the prevention and control of forest fires. Other people living in and around forest areas and getting benefits from the forest should also be involved actively.
10.Regular training of Government Staff and communities as Fire –Fighters should be organized by the government.
11.Public awareness should be created against ill effects of forest fires- a Fire -Week should be celebrated to create mass awareness.
12.Legal Provisions for fire prevention and control should be implemented forcefully.