Environment, GS-3, Uncategorized

Uttarakhand forest fires

Often unquantified, the social and economic impacts of forest fires are considerable: lives are lost, health problems occur, animals are killed and the environment suffers

The disaster:

Lives lost: 5

Land gutted by forest fire: Almost 1,600 acres of land (hundreds of villages/clusters)

Forest Fire in India:

Almost 50-55% of the total forest cover in India is prone to forest fire annually

Indian State of Forest Report, 2015: Tropical thorn forest, Tropical dry evergreen forest and Subtropical pine forest – most prone to forest fires

Period: Between February & mid-June

Why— Soil moisture is at its lowest


Himalayan Belt:

  • Western Himalayan region- moist deciduous, tropical dry deciduous, temperate and sub-Alpine types
  • Prone to fires owing to less rain in the pre-monsoon period
  • More susceptible trees: Pine forest in Garhwal & Kumaon Hills


Forest Fire & Ecology

  • The ground vegetation is completely destructed— severe loss of biodiversity
    • Loss of forest cover
    • Loss to the wildlife habitat
    • Loss of human lives
  • Emissions of Carbon in the Atmosphere (Climate change – lack of sustainable land use policy)
  • Expansion of deforested area— Change in landscape & micro-climate—Drying up of forest floor
  • Fires in the understorey of humid rainforests can cause tree mortality and canopy openness (Land transforms into ‘savannah’)


Major Issues related to Indian Forests:

Definition of Forest: No proper definition charted out with environmentalists and the government authorities having their own version of what exactly a forest is.

Greed for Land:

  • Increased industrial activity
  • Need to increase agricultural production
  • Nexus between land developers & Timber Mafia

Climate Change:

  • Natural Disasters: Volcanoes, Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Cloudbursts in Himalayas, Droughts, Storms
  • Mild winter: More pests and diseases (insect infestations)
  • The El-Niño effect: contributes to increases in the frequency of drought and lightning strikes

A recent study of various forest conditions in Russia suggests that a 2°C rise in temperature could increase the area affected by forest fires by a factor of between one and a half and two

India’s Efforts:

Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs): Pledged to

  • Increase its forest cover and improve the quality of forest cover
  • Create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent through additional forests and tree cover by 2030

Technology used for monitoring:

  • Satellite images to detect forest fires and its spread (INFFRAS)
  • Mapping of fire-sensitive zones as well as real-time data
  • Pre & post fire guidelines/warnings

Firefighting Techniques:

  • Clearance of stretches of ground vegetation in between forest areas to arrest the spread of forest fire
  • Beating the fire with the help of local community with specified certain equipment’s
  • Difficult to implement technique: Helicopters spraying water or carbon dioxide

Way Ahead:

  • The lack of regulatory enforcement and contradictory policies and laws need to be tamed in order to arrest the loss— ASEAN’s Zero Burning Policy needs to be reformed and given more teeth in order to keep the trend in check
  • Rural community is a major stakeholder and government should involve its large rural communities in preparing for the future— by utilizing effective intervention of community-led ‘van panchayats’ (forest councils) in preventing fires.
  • Usage of biomass alternatives, including cooking gas, has had a beneficial impact on fire risk, and this must be expanded
  • The plantation sector can be tapped for reducing the clearance of ecologically important natural oak forests, by giving preference to growing useful fodder and timber trees

Connecting the Dots:

  • What do you mean by Forest Degradation and Forest Fragmentation? How is the REDD Initiative related to the two?
  • Comment on the relationship shared between indigenous people and forests.

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