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Strengthening forest fire management in Northeast

The use of satellite technology has improved the detection and monitoring of forest fires in India.

forest fire

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  25 Jan 2023 5:08 AM GMT

The use of satellite technology has improved the detection and monitoring of forest fires in India. For, the northeast region with difficult and hilly terrain, controlling forest fires is a tougher challenge. It is heartening to know that the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has decided to start comprehensive forest fire controlling and combat training for three of its specialized teams formed to manage forest fires across the country. Forest fire season in the region is from February to April, state forest departments and other stakeholders remaining fully alert and prepared throughout these months is crucial for timely intervention to prevent the outbreak of devastating large forest fires. National Action Plan on Forest Fires (NAPFF) highlights that major affected areas lie in the northeast region and the forests on the Deccan plateau. According to the India State of Forest Report 2021, more than 36% of the country's forest cover is prone to a frequent forest fires. The majority of forest fires in the country reported to be caused by manmade factors indicate the challenges in its management- detection, monitoring, prevention and control. "Forest fires, if undetected and not extinguished on time, may turn into large forest fires that cause widespread destruction," cautions the report and points out that such fires require extensive resources in terms of fire fighting force, materials, equipment and other logistical support for containment. The outbreak of devastating forest fires in Mizoram's Lunglei district and Dzokou valley along Nagaland-Manipur inter-state boundaries brought to the fore not only the consequences of failure to detect and monitor large forest fires on time but also huge logistical challenges encountered by firefighting agencies in controlling such fires. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forest and Climate Change in one of its reports had recommended strengthening the ground mechanism and developing a well-equipped trained workforce to fight forest fires. North-eastern states taking a cue from NDRF and developing special teams of State Disaster Response Forces and equipping them with specialised training and equipment will ensure the availability of more trained fire fighting forces to effectively control large forest fires in the region. The Committee also recommended strengthening post-fire assessments, inter-state knowledge sharing and research to understand the longer-term impacts of forest fire which will enable to identify of gaps in the implementation of the existing management system and finding solutions. Forest departments collaborating with universities and the Indian Institute of Technology to undertake extensive research projects will help draw the roadmap and formulate state-specific strategies. Other key suggestions of the parliamentary panel include promoting awareness programmes in regions around forest areas for sensitising the concerned stakeholders to prevent accidental cases of forest fires, proper fencing and real-time monitoring of illegal activities in forest areas and punitive action against the miscreants. A key principle outlined in NAPFF is that preventing fires from taking place and improving the resilience of the forests against fire hazards shall form priority in forest management policies, strategies and programs with well-defined aims of conservation of biodiversity, wildlife and forest wealth. It says that districts shall form the units for forest fire management planning and implementation for ease in coordination with the Disaster Management Authorities at the national, state and district levels. Strengthening the fire fighting systems at the district-level through adequate budgetary allocations with a special focus on forest fires, particularly in those districts with a high incidence of forest fire detection will facilitate timely action. Awareness drives through village-level institutions, social media messaging, and public meetings throughout the forest fire season will motivate the general public to play a proactive role in preventing accidental fires and to remain vigilant against the spread of forest fires into a large area. The National Action Plan underlines the importance of a long-term plan for improving the water regime of the forest areas based on opportunities and feasibility to reduce vulnerability to fires and points out that several existing programs for eco-rehabilitation and catchment area treatment plans provide scope for this kind of work. State Forest Departments putting in policies for permitting women Self Help Groups to use forest floor biomass with appropriate safeguards for micro-entrepreneurship is also suggested in the action plan for forest floor biomass management for minimizing the accumulation of dry fuel material on the forest floor in the fire season. Near real-time monitoring of forest fire occurrence with the help of satellites can facilitate issuing timely alerts but priority on forest floor biomass management can reduce forest fire risks. Construction of roads and other infrastructure in the proximity of forest increases the risk due to factors such as workers and other personnel camping at construction sites near the forest lighting fire to cook food, or to keep themselves warm. With connectivity projects which involve the diversion of large tracts of forests being pushed in the region, strengthening forest fire management in the Northeast has become an urgent necessity.

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