INDIA – Maharashtra’s own valley of flowers, the UNESCO world natural heritage site at Kaas in Satara district now faces a new threat — vandals. Since December-end, the plateau, which is a bio-diversity hotspot and sees the flowering of rare and endemic flora, has seen instances of forest fires, the latest of which happened on Sunday. Put together, these have gutted around 15 hectare of land.
“These fires were lit on purpose. These incidents are serious,” said a senior forest department official, adding that “even if the fires did not happen during the flowering season, it impacts the ecosystem.”
Anil Anjankar, deputy conservator of forests (DCF), Kolhapur (Territorial), confirmed that these fires were an act of vandalism. “These fires were lit by someone. However, our people managed to douse it,” he said, adding these fires affected both, the flora and the faunal species like reptiles.
“This will look aesthetically bad. There is no guarantee that the flowering will be good at these spots next year,” explained Anjankar.
While the fires on December 21 and 30 in the Kaas village had gutted around 10 hectare, the Sunday incident had seen around 5 hectare being affected. On Sunday, the fire started from private land in the Asai village and spread to Kaas.
The Kaas plateau is spread over 1,872 hectare and covers the area under six villages. The ‘Kaas pathar,’ which falls in the Sahyadri sub-cluster of the Western Ghats has around 850 flowering varieties including orchids and Karvy and grasses. Of these, 624 species have entered the Red Data book and 39 of these are found only in Kaas, stressing the need for their preservation and conservation.
The flowering season begins from around mid-August and continues for around two months. Last year, over 1.15 lakh people visited the plateau.
An official said around 40 personnel had been deployed for security to prevent and extinguish fires, fire lines had been drawn to prevent any blaze from spreading and equipment like fire beaters has also been deployed. Local villagers have also been sensitized. However, officially added there were instances wherein fires had been started inside fire lines.
“Kaas has several species endemic to it whose flowering may be affected by the fires. It also affects larger trees and their regeneration. Though controlled fires in patches every five years may help flowering and growth of grass, this has to be done scientifically. Today, there are misconceptions that lighting prairie fires will help increase flowering and regeneration,” explained another forest official.
The Kaas plateau is spread over 1,872 hectare and covers the area under six villages.
The ‘Kaas pathar,’ which falls in the Sahyadri sub-cluster of the Western Ghats has around 850 flowering varieties.