Roots of forest fires run deep

If there is one season forest officials and watchers of Nagarahole National Park fear, it is summer which brings back fears of forest fires.

This year, on February 16, about 15,000 acres of forest was gutted in the blaze which kept burning for days. A teenager was blamed for the fires. This did not surprise wildlife expert Sanjay Gubb who believes that most of the forest fires are caused by humans.

“People who graze cattle in the forests or collect non-timber forest produce are usually behind this. Fires are also set by miscreants to take revenge on forest staffers who catch them for smuggling forest items. This gives them an opportunity to ‘get even’ with the officers who are then pulled up for being inefficient in checking the fires,” he said. Sometimes, temporary employees of the forest department are also involved.

Two temporary staffers, Raju and Muthappa, were recently caught for setting fires at the Ganagooru section of Anechowkoor range in Nagarahole National Park. In another case, Harisha, son of a forest department employee, was caught. Kumara, a 19-year-old Adivasi boy of Metikuppe, was also caught while setting fires.

 “Strangely, except Kumara, all of them were let out without a single charge filed against them,” a forest official, who did not wish to be named, said.

Sometimes, the need of a job drives young forest-dwellers to set the forest on fire.

 “The more such incidents of fire the more are their chances of being employed as additional forest watchers. This will provide at least 60 boys from each forest range with a temporary job for a few months,” the official said.

Does it mean that forest fires are caused due to the inefficiency of the forest department?

“No,” said Gubbi. “Of course, the number of incidents and extent of fires will depend on the characteristics of the vegetation in the forest area. Dry deciduous forests and natural grasslands are at higher risk compared to moist deciduous, evergreen habitats,” he said.

Official records reveal that Karnataka has about 38,720 sq km of forest. Also, almost 60% of the 1,600 km-long Western Ghats, that is classified as the hottest bio-diversity hotspot, run through the state.  

Experts and officials agreed that adequate fire management could bring down the incidences of forest fires. Monitored formation of fire lines, hiring adequate staff during fire risk season and awareness campaigns during summer would help in reducing forest fires.

Officials at Bandipur, which has been devastated by fires, have decided to press for maximum allotment of forest watchers to check fires.

Preeti Nagaraj/ DNA-Daily News & Analysis Source: 3D Syndication