The Impact of Bush Fire And Tree Felling

The Impact of Bush Fire And Tree Felling

08 March 2010

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Nigeria —  Bush fires and felling of trees have been a part of Nigerian history for hundreds of years; People used bush fires to their benefit to manage the land and as a hunting aid and trees are used as or sold for fuel or a commodity to be used by humans. Climate experts and agriculturalists have said these human activities have contributed to global warming and deprived the soil the key nutrients elements needed by plants in large quantities.

Bush fires in Nigeria are ignited by farmers during the dry season in the process of land clearance. Bushfires have existed for as long as trees have been around. The devastating effect of any bush fire results in the loss of native flora and fauna which may take several years to regenerate. Fire is widely accepted throughout the country as being a valuable tool in the management of natural vegetation, agriculture including livestock production and in other land use systems. In the past and even in some instances today hunters, herders, farmers and cigarette smokers are the primary recipients of blame for uncontrolled and indiscriminate bush burning.

Musa Abdullahi, a local farmer in Abuja, said burning is embedded in the cultural values and traditional farming systems of the people. To him it is the easiest means of getting rid of weeds and other unwanted dry shrubs during pre-planting operations. This may be particularly the case where the soils are dry and desiccation is rapid. In the forest ecosystem, fire is practically the cheapest means available for clearing slash and felled trees from fields to create a larger planting area for crops. Burning is essential for a good crop with minimum of labour. Farmers share the opinion that when the vegetation is burned, large quantities of nutrient-rich-ashes are deposited on the soil surface which provides the newly planted crops with the benefits of the biomass that has grown on the site.

But most of these fires when set, are difficult to control and eventually spread to other farms and even towns thereby causing a lot of damage. Abdullahi said farmers in the local areas of Abuja usually remove all weed capable of spreading fires from the boundary of their farms but the flames are spread to other places by air. There are several major factors that affect the progress of a bushfire including high winds (provide more oxygen), amount of fuel (example dry leaves), low humidity and high air temperature. The kind of terrain such as hills and slopes also affect the spread of fires. For example fires tend to spread faster up sides of hills, thus in places like Abuja, the effects may be devastating.

Additionally flying burning embers of a main fire front can set spot fires ahead. The fire basically leaps ahead of itself helped by the wind.

Another reason for setting fires, Abdullahi said is to enable the speedy growth of weeds for grazing. He said during the dry season when all grazing fields are dry, Fulani herdsmen set fire to burn dried grasses so that fresh leaves can shoot out of the rhizomes and roots. Few days later, the green grass that germinate, is used as animal feed by the herdsmen.

Deforestation is a contributor to global warming and is often cited as one of the major causes of the enhanced greenhouse effect. Tropical deforestation is responsible for approximately 20% of world greenhouse gas emissions.

Sabo Maifarauta is a hunter in Abuja who said fires have been used in the rocky areas of the middle belt region of Nigeria aid to hunting. He said the fires are mostly set at night when wild animals have returned to roost and others are coming out to look for food. The fires cover wider areas in a circle or semi-circular pattern in such a way that the animals escape the heat towards the centre. The hunters who position themselves both at the centre and outside the fire circle will chase and catch the animals frustrated by the head. This type of hunting which is done basically during the dry season has caused enormous damage to farmers because the hunters, after evacuating their catch do not quench the fires but leave them and eventually they spread.

Maifarauta said the only way to discourage dry season hunting using fires is by making legislation banning it and even then, since it is normally done at night and in the bush, violators will always escape.

Audu said giant trees and others considered to be strong are used as timber and in making items such as pestles and mortars. Mortars and pestle are essential to the life of rural people because they are used in processing different kind of foods. They are therefore present in every household. He also said people cut down trees to acquire enough space for farming and do not consider their actions as detrimental to the climate. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, the overwhelming direct cause of deforestation is agriculture. Subsistence farming is responsible for 48% of deforestation; commercial agriculture is responsible for 32% of deforestation; logging is responsible for 14% of deforestation and fuel wood removals make up 5% of deforestation.

A participant in the recent climate change meeting in Copenhagen and Consultant to National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Dr. Vincent Okechi said cutting of trees without planting others as replacement has been a factor for climate imbalance which eventually lead to global warming. The carbon dioxide (Co2) level which would have otherwise been absorbed by the trees increases in the atmosphere.

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