In Sénégal, fire occurrence contributes to increased pressure on agricultural and rangeland systems through the destruction of natural pasture and the degradation of agricultural land, particularly in the Sahel. Fire activity in the forests in southern Sénégal decreases forest productivity and is a threat to regeneration.
The Government of Sénégal has put in place the means to fight bush fires in the principal eco-geographic zones of the country. These include active firefighting, prevention activities such as awareness campaigns, and the establishment of a network of fire breaks. One of the most important strategies, introduced in 1965, is the use of prescribed fires early in the season in order to reduce fuel loads and prevent late fires, which are often much larger, more difficult to control and more destructive.
These strategies are complemented by the appropriate use of fire information by the public services as well as the general public. Traditionally, fire information consisted of field reports of observed or fought fires. However, the estimation of burned areas and fire frequency are fundamental to the management of natural resources with respect to fire activity.
Remote sensing of active fires and area burned
To complement traditional fire information, the Centre de Suivi Écologique (CSE) of Dakar has implemented a methodology to monitor fire activity using NOAA-AVHRR satellite data received locally through their own station installed in 1992. While not exhaustive, it is well accepted that fire information obtained from AVHRR provides a good indication of fire activity over a large territory. Initially, only the territory of Sénégal was covered, and information was used operationally by both the Forestry, Waters, Hunting and Conservation Department and the Livestock Direction. Now the CSE monitoring activities are also providing fire information to neighbouring countries. The CSE has also recently become one of the nodes of the World Fire Web of the Joint Research Centre (EU). In 1999, an agreement was signed with the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) which allows the GFMC to disseminate CSE fire products on the GFMC homepage.
Analysis of fire information from the period 1993 to 1998 led to a better understanding of fire activity in Sénégal and the identification of important issues that are briefly described below.
The fire season takes place from October to May. The most troublesome period is often January and February, when there is a high volume of senescent vegetation and the weather is very dry. During that period, large uncontrolled wildfires can be very destructive. The spatial and temporal distribution is generally heterogeneous and variable. Figure 1 illustrates this variability and clearly indicates peak fire activity in February 1994 and January 1996. These two periods can mostly be explained by high rainfall that lead to increased fuel loads as well as unsuccessful prescribed fire programs.
Figure 1. Monthly burned area in Sénégal between 1993 and 1998.
Figure 2. Fire occurrence in Sénégal between 1996 and 1998.
Spatially, as illustrated in Figure 2, most fire activity occurs in the centre, south and southwest. Most of this activity takes place in the regions of Kolda, Tamba and Ziguinchor because of their continuous vegetative cover combined with human activities such as honey and gum gathering, hunting and charcoal production. In the northern part of the country, the little vegetation available is usually quickly used by cattle and fire activity is consequently very low.
Fire management organization
The Directorate for Water, Forests, Hunting and Soil Conservation (Direction des Eaux, Forêts, Chasses et Conservation du Sols – DEFCCS) is the main organisation responsible for wildland fire management. DEFCCS promotes fire prevention but lacks adequate tools and funding. The CSE provides information that allows the government to determine the location and size of fires. For fire management purposes, the fire maps, together with maps of primary production and fire statistics, allow the recognition of vulnerable areas and the mobilization of firefighting forces.
The Directorate of Livestock Breeding (Direction de lÉlevage) manages the pasturelands, which are indispensable for the nutrition of domestic livestock under the extensive management system common in Sénégal. The Directorate is faced with two major problems. First, wildfires destroy considerable areas of important grazing resources, resulting in overgrazing of the remaining vegetation. Second, the mobility of the migrant (nomadic) pastoralists increases the fire risk. The information generated by the CSE allows the authorities to better manage pasture resources in space and time.
Centre de Suivi Écologique
pour la gestion des ressources naturelles