Blanket ban on fuel removal in forests hindering fire management: WB study

28 February 2019

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INDIA – Forest fires are not treated as disasters in the country and disaster management authorities have so far played a minor role in forest fire prevention and management (FFPM), according to a World Bank (WB) study.

Noting the State government Forest Department official’s view on challenges for fire management in that State, the study noted that a blanket ban on fuel removal had hindered FFPM and conservation objectives.

“The removal of dead and fallen hardwood trees, which create the potential for intense and long-lasting fires, should be allowed on a limited basis as part of the management of protected areas,” World Bank said in its report ‘Strengthening Forest Fire and Management in India’ (2018).

Noting findings of the previous Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report in the State, the study said a large number of vacancies in the Forest Department were unfilled. The CAG attributed the shortages in part to the underutilisation and suboptimal allocation of available funds.

The study revealed a wide variation in how forest fires are treated in disaster planning and how institutional mechanisms have been set up for organising the response to large or destructive fires. “The point at which other agencies should be mobilised to assist State Forest Departments with forest fire suppression remains unclear, and the authority of the department to call on other assets in responding to forest fires is also limited,” it said.

Satellite images

The ways in which satellite-based alerts are disseminated to field staff and the public have progressed greatly since Forest Survey of India (FSI) first began sending active fire alerts to the States in 2004. FSI began sending alerts to registered users nationwide in 2010. A total of 1,772 users have registered with FSI forest fire alert systems in Karnataka. As of October 2017, FSI had 11,639 registered users in the country. About causes for fire, the study said fire intensity and behaviour are intricately linked to weather and climate.

For most of India, forest fires peak during the dry months of March or April before the arrival of monsoon, it said. Forest officers pointed out that people are the main source of forest fire ignitions. Other factors such as population pressures, current and historic land management practices, demand for forest resources, the use of fire as a tool, and negligence cause forest fires, it said.

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