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Uttarakhand experienced 1006 forest fire incidents in last two months: FSI Data

Forest fire incidents are on the rise annually in various regions of the country, including North India’s hilly areas. While these incidents

By Ground Report
New Update
Uttarakhand experienced 1006 forest fire incidents in last two months: FSI Data

Forest fire incidents are on the rise annually in various regions of the country, including North India’s hilly areas. While these incidents typically peak during the summer, this year has seen a surge during the winter season as well.

The Forest Survey of India (FSI), a body under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, reports that Uttarakhand experienced 1006 fire incidents from November 1, 2023, to January 1, 2024. This marks a significant increase from the previous years, which saw around 556 incidents during the same timeframe.

A previous study indicated that forest fires negatively impact the microorganisms residing in these areas, inhibiting their growth. The study suggested that understanding the transformation of microorganisms post-fire could aid in predicting the response of bacteria and fungi to environmental shifts.

Research has shown a significant alteration in microorganisms following a severe fire. Over a year, researchers examined how bacterial and fungal communities flourish in the leaf litter of burned areas.

The study discovered that the microorganisms emerging on the soil surface varied with weather changes and plant resurgence. Dispersal primarily influenced the composition of these microorganisms. The MSystems journal published this research.

The Forest Survey of India (FSI) reports that this winter season has seen forest fires in nearly all districts of Uttarakhand, including Uttarkashi, Nainital, Bageshwar, Tehri, Dehradun, Pithoragarh, Pauri, and Almora.

Forest fires increasing, funding decreasing

According to data presented to the Parliament on July 20, 2018, forest fire incidents in India have seen a 1.5-fold increase over six years, reaching 35,888 incidents.

Experts attribute this rise to extended dry spells, particularly during winter and pre-monsoon periods, resulting from increased warming. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an environmental research advocacy, has found that India’s annual mean temperature has risen by 1.2°C since the start of the 20th century.

Source Forest survey of India

Interestingly, despite a 125% surge in forest fires between 2015-17, the funds allocated to states and union territories for forest protection measures have seen a 21% decrease, amounting to Rs 34.5 crore.

In 2017, the earlier Intensification of Forest Management Scheme (IFMS) was superseded by the Forest Fire Prevention and Management (FPM) scheme. As per the guidelines of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, the Centre contributes 100% of the share for union territories, 90% for northeastern states, and 60% for other states.

Uttarakhand forest fire driving forces

Human activities cause nearly 95% of forest fires in India, either accidentally or intentionally. Common causes include grazing, sparks from vehicles, outdoor activities, shifting cultivation, and burning litter like pine needles. Human activities near roads and settlements in Uttarakhand often link to forest fires. People intentionally set fires to rejuvenate grazing lands and biomass in chir pine forests. During summer, locals burn the heavy leaf litter on the forest floor, releasing nutrients that promote the growth of edible fungi, which is in high demand in local markets.

Forests are prone to fires due to the presence of dry vegetation biomass. High temperatures and low humidity, along with high solar radiation, create favourable conditions for forest fires. In Uttarakhand’s deciduous forests, 25% of total fire events occur due to the humid undergrowth that can prevent fire. However, in coniferous forests, 75% of fire events occur due to the high resin content in tree trunks and availability of dry leaves for fuel.

Forest fire monitoring in Uttarakhand shows that chir pine forests are most susceptible to fires, followed by dry deciduous scrub forest. This is due to the high availability of surface fuel in the form of dry needles, high temperatures, and high char content. The number of forest fire incidents in chir pine forests varies due to changes in solar light availability on southern and western aspects in their elevation zones. Steep slopes and strong winds in the mountains can spread fire, causing damage to oak forest crowns and rhododendrons.

Traditional land management changes, including less regular use and controlled burning due to urban migration, contribute to Uttarakhand's forest fires. Additionally, rising temperatures, noted as the main cause of severe fire events across India in 2009, 2010, and 2012, escalate their intensity and spread.

Global forests store huge carbon

Forests around the world store a massive amount of carbon, totaling 638 gigatons, with 80% in the form of terrestrial vegetation biomass carbon. Over the last 25 years, there has been a reported decline of 11 gigatons in global forest biomass carbon stock. In India, the total carbon stock in forests was estimated at 7,044 million tonnes, with an increase of 103 million tonnes reported between 2011 and 2013.

Carbon in forest ecosystems is found in various pools, including living aboveground and belowground biomass, dead organic matter like deadwood, and litter and soil as soil organic matter. However, forest fires contribute significantly to carbon dioxide emissions, with 98.11 teragrams per year, mostly from tropical dry deciduous and tropical moist deciduous type forest fires.

FSI 2017 reported carbon stock distribution in Uttarakhand's forest pools. This data was used to review climate-driven forest fire effects in Dehradun district, Uttarakhand, India, from 2002-2019.

Uttarakhand's varied forests, covering 45% of the state, include types like tropical, sub-tropical pine, and alpine. These ecosystems contribute around 2.4 billion US dollars to the state's economy annually.

Forest fires have been a significant issue in Uttarakhand, with an increasing number of incidents recorded from 922 in 2002 to 41,600 in 2019. The forest fire season in the state is longer than in Himalayan and non-Himalayan states, peaking in late April and late May or early June.

These fires result in the loss of valuable timber, pose a threat to endangered species, and cause extensive damage to forest ecology and the landscape. In 2019, Tehri Garhwal district reported the highest number of forest fires (8,555), while Rudraprayag district reported the fewest (39).

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