INDIA – KOZHIKODE: Forest officials suspect that tourists played a role in the devastating fire which burnt down around 100 hectares of grasslands at the popular trekking destination of Chembra peak in Wayanad.The incident has brought to light the heightened safety risks posed by tourism activities in the 60 odd eco-tourism centres in the state where entire forest stretches have dried-up.
Greens have demanded banning all eco-tourism activity inside the forests till the end of summer.
“The forests across the state are all dried up and covered with thick layer of dried leaves due to unprecedented drought conditions. Just a spark is enough to set off a blaze and decimate vast stretches of forests. The forest department should immediately stop tourism activities in all eco-tourism sites inside the forest till the end of summer.There should also be strict access control of vehicles to the forest during the summer months,” said John Peruvanthanam, environmental activist.
He said almost all the forest fires in the state were manmade. “This year forest fires are being reported even in areas where fire lines have been laid by the forest department.It points to deliberate attempts by miscreants and vested interests to burn down the forests,” he said.
South Wayand DFO Abdul Azeez said the forest fire at Chembra Peak on Saturday was deliberate and man-made.The eco-tourism site had been closed down from Sunday on wards. Forest authorities on Wednesday closed down ecotourism centres inside the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) till March 31, considering the acute drought conditions and threat of forest fire.The chief wildlife warden on Tuesday issued orders closing down the Silent Valley national park in Palakkad district from February 21to March 31.
“We are stopping the entry of tourists to eco-tourism centres of Tholpetty and Muthanga inside WWS considering the huge influx of wild animals to the sanctuary from the adjoining Bandipur Tiger Reserve following the continuing forest fires in Karnataka forests. The presence of tourists would create trouble for animals which are more likely to stray to human habitations in search of water and fodder,” said P Dhanesh Kumar, warden, WWS. However environmentalists said that closing down just a handful of eco-tourism centres was not enough considering the intensity of this year’s drought.
Principal chief conservator of forests and head of forest force S C Joshi said that the department would conduct a comprehensive assessment of fire risk in all eco-tourism centres and would take a decision based on the assessment.
“It is true that we are facing heightened fire risk due to the extreme drought conditions prevailing this year despite the extra precautions we have taken. I will ask the divisional forest officers to conduct a thorough assessment of fire risk at all the eco-tourism centres and submit a report.We will take a decision on controlling tourist access to the centres based on the report,” he said.