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‘Forest Fires in Himachal Pradesh’

  • Posted By
    10Pointer
  • Categories
    Geography
  • Published
    18th Jan, 2021
  • Context

    Himachal Pradesh frequently witnesses forest fires during dry weather conditions. Though the trend is common in the state, recent events and their frequent occurrence raises serious concerns.

  • Background

    • Every year, forest fires-man-made or natural reduce acres of greenery to ashes and destroy natural habitat of animals and birds.
    • They speed up the processes of global warming and climate change.

    Incidents of forest fire incidents

    • The year 2020 recorded most incidents of forest fire in the last 18 years. As many as 11,340 forest fire incidents occurred from January till May and they peaked in March.
    • 2003 recorded 3143
    • 2004 recorded 4083
    • 2005 recorded 2872
    • 2006 recorded 4106
    • 2007 recorded 3342
    • 2008 recorded 2755
    • 2009 recorded 4305
    • 2010 recorded 4144
    • 2011 recorded 2734
    • 2012 recorded 3878
    • 2013 recorded 3128
    • 2014 recorded 3922
    • 2015 recorded 2863
    • 2016 recorded 2088
    • 2017 recorded the least forest fires-1641
    • 2018 recorded 2259
    • 2019 recorded 7932
  • Analysis

    Forest cover of Himachal Pradesh

    • Although two-thirds of the total geographical area of Himachal Pradesh is legally classified as forest area, much of this area is permanently under snow, glaciers, cold desert or alpine meadows and is above the tree line.
    • This leaves an effective forest cover of around 28 percent (27.72 percent) of the total area which amounts to 15,434 square kilometres.
    • Total geographical area (State)- 55,673 square kilometres
    • Forest area-  66.52 per cent (37,033 sq km)
    • Forest cover- 27.72 per cent (15,433.52 sq km)
    • Forest zone: The state comprises four forest zones- sub-tropical, sub-temperate, wet temperate and dry temperate.
    • Legal classification: Based on legal classification, the forests can be classified as reserved, demarcated, undemarcated, un-classified forests.

    Legal definition

    • Reserved forests: An area constituted under the Indian Forest or other state Forest Acts.
    • Protected forests are of two kinds: demarcated protected forests and undemarcated protected forests, based on whether the limits of the forest have been specified by a formal notification.
    • Protected Forests: A legal term for an area subject to limited degree of protection under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act or other state Forest Acts.
    • Unclassified forests: Forest land owned by government but non-constituted into a reserved or protected forest.
    • Chir Pine, Deodar, Oak, Kail, Fir and Spruce are some of the common trees found here.
    • Conifers (trees) found in Himachal Pradesh Forests: Blue Pine/Himalayan Pine, Chir Pine, Chilghoza Pine, West Himalayan Spruce, Pindrow Fir, Himalayan cypress, Himalayan Cedar/Deodar, Himalayan Yew.

    Forest cover of India

    • India is among the top ten nations in the world in terms of the Forest area.
      • o   The countries are: Russia, Brazil, Canada, US, China, Australia, Congo, Argentina, Indonesia, India.
    • According to the 2019 report, the total forest cover of the country is 712,249 square kilometres (21.67 percent of India's total geographical area) slightly up from 708,273 sq. km (21.54 percent) in 2017.
    • Top 5 states with highest forest cover area-wise: Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra.
  • What causes the fire?

    • Natural causes: Natural causes such as lightning or rubbing of dry bamboos with each other can sometimes result in fires.
    • Human factors: Forest officials maintain that almost all forest fires can be attributed to human factors.
      • When the grass is dry, even a small spark, such as someone dropping a burning matchstick, torchwood or a bidi/cigarette, can cause a massive fire. A spark can also be produced when dry pine needles or leaves fall on an electric pole.
      • People who frequently pass through a forest to gather minor produce, take their animals for grazing or for other purposes may set up a temporary hearth to cook food or warm themselves. If they leave behind a smouldering fire, it can develop into a forest fire.
      • Also, when people burn their fields to clear them of stubble, dry grass or undergrowth, the fire sometimes spreads to the adjoining forest.
  • How prone are these forests to fire?

    • Recurrent annual phenomenon: Except for periods of precipitation in monsoon and winter, the forests remain vulnerable to wildfires.
      • Forest fires are a recurrent annual phenomenon in the state, and most commonly occur in Chir Pine forests.
      • In the summer season, forest fires occur frequently in the low and middle hills of the state, where forests of Chir Pine are common.
    • Shedding of highly-combustible needles by Chir Pine trees: The dry summer season from March to June coincides with the shedding of highly-combustible needles by Chir Pine trees.
      • Once the fallen dry needles catch fire, it can spread quickly over the entire forest due to the action of the wind.
      • However, due to their thick bark, the Chir Pine trees are themselves relatively unharmed by these fires, and can spring back to life during the monsoon season.
    • During the post-monsoon season and in winters, forest fires are also reported in higher areas, including parts of Shimla, Kullu, Chamba, Kangra and Mandi districts, where they usually occur in grasslands.
  • Impacts of forest fire

    • Damage to regeneration: Forest fires can cause a lot of damage to the regeneration in the forests and their productivity.
    • Exotic weeds: Moisture-loving trees such as Oaks and Deodars may give way to other species and
    • Adverse impacts: Forests help maintain aquifers and continuous flow of streams and springs, and provide firewood, fodder and non-timber produce to the local communities – all these capacities may get adversely affected in case of a fire.
    • Harmful for organic matter: Forest fires may destroy organic matter in the soil and expose the top layer to erosion.
    • Impact on wildlife: They may also impact the wildlife by burning eggs, killing young animals and driving the adult animals away from their safe haven.
    • Threat to humans: Sometimes, a forest fire may get out of control and extend to human settlements, thus posing danger to human life and property.
    • Economic loss: According to the Himachal forest department, forest fires cause an estimated loss of several crore rupees each year. From 2016-17 to 2019-20, the annual loss to the state due to forest fires has ranged from Rs 1.7 crore to Rs 3.5 crore. Around 1,200 to 2,500 forest fires were reported each year during this period affecting thousands of hectares.
  • Conclusion:

    Immediate action is required to prevent and control forest fires in the state. Forecasting fire-prone days using meteorological data, clearing camping sites of dried biomass, early burning of dry litter on the forest floor, growing strips of fire-hardy plant species within the forest, and creating fire lines in the forests are some of the methods to prevent fires. Once a fire starts, early detection and quick action by fire-fighting squads is crucial.