This is one of the worst years in the history of Uttrakhand where frequent forest fires has been witnessed in various parts of the state. It’s been three years, I am residing in the hillside near Landour, Mussoorie and every year I have observed forest patches under flames in this side of the lesser Himalayas. It’s a wistful moment to witness these tall Deodar, Pine and Oak trees being sacrificed in the fiery flames of fire.The media is also filled with reports, discussions and statistics of the area under forest fires and the efforts of the forest department and local agencies to combat holocaust. But are we actually future ready to combat such devastating scenarios caused by forest fires?
Multitude research projects conducted by forest departments and research agencies to combat forest fires are failing to tackle the holocaust caused by forest fires. The research outputs provided by the GIS and remote sensing agencies also failed to prevent the forest fires. Whether the forest fire is deliberate or consequence of the climate change, there is doubt and sense of insecurity whether we are actually ready to tackle the future events of forest fires?
Unlike every year, this year it snowed very little in Landour, Mussoorie. The lesser Himalayas are also not untouched by the shift in the global climatic conditions. Snowfall helps to recharge underground water table. Erratic rainfall patterns also hamper to sustain moisture in the understory and subsurface soil. The Mussoorie hills were once covered with enormous forests. But with rapid urbanisation there is massive deterioration in the forest cover and landuse changes pattern under forest cover. The numerous streams, creeks etc have slowly started receding. The average temperature is also rising in the region due to lessened tree cover.
Besides the above-mentioned climatic factors anthropogenic agents play significant role towards forest fires. While hiking in Mussoorie and vicinity areas, I have noticed various signs of disturbances, e.g. fire, lopping, removal of woody debris, human waste, and garbage including food wrappers, glass bottles and plastic bags. Today also I heard a nearby forest burning in Jabarkhet Nature Reserve.
Rapid urbanisation, pollution, overpopulation, mushrooming hotels and campsites, dumping sites, littering, irresponsible tourism and insensitive approach of humans towards nature are few of the negative factors which paved way for environment degradation and biodiversity loss, ultimately paving way for forest fires. While I observed recent Bamboo flowering in Mussoorie and vicinity areas, the thought of water scarcity and dry conditions were bothering me. Nature has its own way of signaling disasters. Since time immemorial, the signs and signals given by nature and wildlife has averted many disasters. It’s important for us to recognize and decipher the signs and act judiciously to prevent and further protect our race.
The need of the hour is to be vigilant and adopt preventive measures to combat fires. The local EDCs, JFMs, Social Forestry sector and Forest departments should work alongside local people to create vigilant groups to responsibly report and combat forest fires. The garbage dumping sites are alarming and must be properly managed, otherwise apart from risk to the ecology, they might result in future forest fires in the adjacent areas if proper measures are not taken. Areas prone to forest fires as demarcated by Remote Sensing and GIS agencies alongwith Forest departments should be placed on high alert zones and fire management practices should be implemented during the peak seasons. Drones and Artificial intelligence technologies should be extensively applied to survey as well as monitoring. Aerial waterspray and if required artificial rainfall technology should be applied.
Cost benefit analysis of research studies and projects should be done responsibly so that the capital invested results in promising results. The knowledge and reports from laboratories must have field applications and should be disseminated to the forest departments and working agencies. Creating awareness and understanding in the local people about the forests and ecotourism prospects. Training forest personnel and volunteer groups to tackle destruction caused by forest fires. Miscreants involved in putting forest fires should be heavily penalized and strict laws should enforced towards people found guilty. Adopting soil and water conservation measures in the areas prone to forest fires and reforestation of degraded areas. Plantation must be done with region and ecologically specific plant species in the selected areas. Prescriptions and lessons learnt from the past incedences of the forest fires should be delivered and adopted to be well prepared for any event of forest fires in the future.
These selfless forests, who can’t speak for themselves are facing atrocities and wrath cruelity of mankind. It’s a new normal to come across such frequent news of forest fires. Modern Forestry methods must improvise to combat such issues. While we are busy playing blame games, some wilderness is lost in some corner of Earth, which will take ages to replenish. Words of famous author Leo Tolstoy sometimes echo in my ears ‘How much land do a man need’? The vulnerable mountain ecosystems are prone to encounter greater risk of impacts, hence coordinated efforts are required to develop effective strategies for adaptation and mitigation. The demand of the hour is to act responsibly, before it’s too late.
*Pictures from facebook page of Jabarkhet Nature Reserve, Uttarakhand
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