Forest fire in Karnataka’s tiger reserves

Forest fire in Karnataka’s tiger reserves

01 March 2012

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India — Nagarhole: We have seen forest fires in tiger reserves in the past. But never have we come across an inferno of the magnitude that engulfed vast swathes of Nagarhole tiger reserve last week. Over 3000 acres of forest have been completely gutted.

In its fiery rage, spreading its deadly tentacles across the eastern, northern and southern landscape of this pristine wildlife habitat, it has reduced everything its path to ashes. Even huge trees have been reduced to cinder. Burnt remains of snakes, monitor lizards, giant malabar squirrels lay scattered on the charred remains of what was once a verdant patch of moist-deciduous forest.

When we had recently enquired about the preparedness for the impending fires, a senior forest officer had said: “It is still green in my section of the forest. We will have to be on our toes towards the second week of March.

Barely a week since he made the statement, scores of acres of scarred, barren, undulating land bear witness to the damage caused by one of the biggest fires in this the history of Nagarhole. It could probably take ten or even fifteen years for the park to recover from the blazing onslaught, triggered ‘reportedly’ by anguished forest settlers who dwell inside the tiger reserve.

Nagarhole, spread over 684 sq km, was renowned for its magnificent tigers and bubbling, sustainable prey density. Now, thanks to the ineptitude, callousness and unpreparedness of the senior forest officers, it has lost its soul. If there was tranquility and peace, there is an eerie, disturbing silence now.

The fire could have certainly been contained had the conservator of forests (CF), Mr Vijay Ranjan Singh, and the Field Director- Project Tiger (FDPT), Mr Hosmath, been vigilant. In their quest to ‘cobble’ up funds, they failed to pay heed to the warnings of people living on the fringe of the forest.

It is disgusting that the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW), Mr BK Singh blames the tribals for the fire, instead of taking his officers to task. Bandipur National park, lying south-east to nagarhole, had been burning for a week. He should have ensured that the FDPT and CF had put the forest machinery on high alert.

Like Nero fiddling on the roof when Rome was on fire, the CWW, FDPT and CF snoozed while Nagarhole was ablaze. They didn’t bother to show up at the park for two days. Though the ecological and biotic loss is unfathomable, the senior officers are unrepentant.

It has been a trend to employ temporary fire watchers and hire jeeps in the third week of January to draw up fire lines. Teams are posted at vantage positions and kept on high alert. But none of this was done this year, as the Conservator of Forests (CF) seemingly did not want to waste government funds.

Intriguingly, the CF had no qualms whatsoever in spending Rs one lakh to construct a new watch tower at a waterhole inside the park. Had fire watchers been hired and the communication network (which had been malfunctioning since December 2011) been repaired, the fire could have been possibly contained.

“The wireless sets are of no use as we are not able to convey messages. Had they sets been in conditioned we could definitely stopped the fire in its track,” said a forest staff.

We may fret over the immeasurable damage, but the senior officers feel it is normal for summer fires to devastate sections of the forest. Such is the state of affairs in Karnataka’s forests.

It will continue to be so, if we have jokers, who have no clue of what wildlife management is all about, continue to hold such executive posts.

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