Forest Fires – A good servant, a poor master

Management through integrated forest protection scheme

11 November 2007

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Forests constitute a large part of earth’s renewable natural resources. Besides serving as an important source of food , fuel wood, fodder, timber etc; it also plays a pivotal role in maintaining a near ideal environmental condition for life sustenance. Of the total geographical area in India, (328.87 mha) recorded forest area constitutes about 77.4mha of which the actual forest cover is 67.8 mha & of this forest cover, good forest cover (i.e. density is 40% & above) is around 39 mha. India is endowed with a variety of agro climatic zones & this is reflected in the different forest types of country. There are 16 types & 220 sub types of forests.

Forest fires are a world wide phenomena & forests of India are no exception to this. Fire depending on where, when and why it occurs, can be either an essential factor or other wise, in ecological cycle of the forested landscape and the survival of associated plants and animals it is merely a destructive unnatural threat. In tropical deciduous forests, fire is a recurrent phenomenon due to higher levels of water stress during summer. Traditional land use practices and changes in the weather pattern have affected the incidence of fire. Fire being a good servant and a poor master ,has been responsible for causing immense damage to both forest flora and fauna, including the soil inhabitants. Every year, a large extent of forest area is affected by fires. There is very little knowledge of the precise cause of these fires though it is assumed that vast majority of fires in India toady are human caused. The local communities ignite, the fires for various reasons such as –

– to promote tender growth of herbivorous vegetation

– forest patches are slashed & burned to practice shifting agriculture

– to collect non timber forest products like Mauhna flowers etc.

The accidental fires may be due to fire escaped, from burning of crops remains from agriculture fields, camp fire by tourist or a burnt cigarette or bidi thrown around unintentionally.

The current practices followed for fire management include

– Cutting & maintenance of Fireline

– Deployment of fire watchers during fire season

– construction of watch towers

– Awareness camps to sensitize people about forest fires.

More recent efforts include use of modern technologies such as Remote Sensing Technology to detect & monitor the forest fire using satellite data.. Detection of active fire locations by satellites leads to near real time detection & hence timely control operations A good work in this direction is being done by Forest Survey of India (FSI) Dehradun, National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) Hyderabad and some States like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka etc.

– Involvement of local communities in fire management.

Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India is implementing a centrally sponsored scheme namely Integrated Forest Protection Scheme under which assistance is being provided to States to undertake various protection measures including prevention detection and control of forest fires . Besides use of technology involvement and support of communities will continue to be the central focus of fire management operations. Toady there are more than one lakh village level Joint Forest Management Committees and efforts are on to ensure effective and meaningful participation of these committees to prevent and control fires.

Consequences of uncontrolled forest fires are serious degradation of forests, ecological changes as well as deterioration of social and economic conditions. The main ecological damage occurs in form of destruction of biodiversity extinction of plants and animals, deterioration of soil ecosystem resulting in erosion and loss of soil fertility, loss of wildlife habitat and depletion of wildlife, degradation of watershed zone resulting in loss of water as well destruction of natural regeneration leading to forest reduction. Ecological and social losses due to fire destruction include losses of valuable timber resources, Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) fuel-wood and fodder.

While it is well established that uncontrolled forest fires lead to several negative social environment and economic impacts, fire is also an important & widely used tool to meet land management goals and maintain the function of ecological processes.

Toady climate change is no more a future threat but we are already in it. Forests are not only to be impacted by the climate change but also are a natural resource that impact the climate. Any destruction/deforestation of forest areas will contribute to enhancing the rate of climate change. Forest fires, not only contribute significantly to GHG emission but loss of resource renders the area more vulnerable to climate change. Therefore, it is imperative that all efforts to protect this forest wealth which is the best cover for climate security be made.

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