On April 30, 2016, massive forest fires engulfed the areas of Pauri, Tehri and Nainital.

Exactly one year later, there is no stopping to the forest fires.

Uttarakhand is burning. Do we even care to notice?

Pauri forest fires
A forest fire in Pauri.

Forest fires: why do they occur?

In Uttarakhand, 18% of the forests are pine. Pine boom was seen after British started making their summer residences in the Himalayan region.

So, they did the most white thing one could ever do – the British decided that Himalayas didn’t quite feel like the mountains back home because they lack pine trees. So, they destroyed the natural cedar and rhododendron trees solely to plant pine.

Pine forest in Uttarakhand
They look beautiful, but are extremely harmful to the mountains.

The case with pine trees is – they catch fire very easily. Dry pine leaves which the locals call pirul are highly combustible forest waste.

Due to global warming, there is little or no rainfall in many regions of the state, which is accompanied by dry, hot summers. This makes it fairly easy for forest fires to occur.

Discounting the timber mafia in this situation will be wrong.

Timber mafia deliberately sets fire to the forests for, well, timber, which is in demand in the market.

There have been approximately 922 incidents of fire which have destroyed 2,000 hectares of fire according to Rajendra Kumar, Uttarakhand Principal Chief Conservator.

While independent reports say that there have been 1600 incidents in which 3500 hectares of forests were destroyed.

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What is the government doing?

Like always, nothing.

It is said that the government has raised the number of forest officials from 3,000 to 6,000. However, the forest department is still understaffed. According to reports, there are only 5 personnel per department, which is certainly not enough to cope with any case of emergency.

Often it is blamed that there is a close nexus of the government and timber mafia, and it is only because of corruption in government bureaus that such atrocities to the mountains can exist.

What can be done?

1. Replacing pine with broad-leaved trees like oaks is one solution. If systematic deforestation of pine trees and subsequent afforestation of oak trees is carried out, it won’t cause harm to the environment.

This will take 20 years but it is not at all impossible.

2. There should be a proper study as to how much revenue the government really earns from pine resin, as this is the only reason why pine trees are not being done away with. Various reports say that the revenue is too insignificant.

3. DO NOT KEEP THE LOCALS OUT OF CONSERVATION ISSUES. This is the biggest mistake any government can ever do. Do you really think that you know the forests better than those who have been living here for generations?

Preventing forest fires
Involving local communities, especially women can prove very pivotal.

4. Keep your eyes and ears open. The media is too irresponsible to ever cover the fires in the mountains. You have to make yourself heard.

Mountains are not just summer holidays. They sustain the plains, they have given us rivers. We have to be extra careful about how they are being handled because the repercussions will be faced directly or indirectly in terms of high summer heat or warm winters.

Take care. Uttarakhand is 1% of India’s total landmass. It sustains 3% of India’s total forest cover.

Image Credits: Google Images


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