Green burnt to black


Experts say wildfires and unusual land burning are the main causes of changes in increasing land-use patterns.

Human interventions, climate change and an overall reduction in ecological diversity are leading to an increase in forest fires in Karnataka.

The state saw around 40 percent increase inforest fires in the state through the forest department’s image sensors from the last year. Between November 2020 to June 2021, there were 6716 forest fire incidents reported . In 2010-11, there were 370 forest fire incidentsreportstates that the peak time for forest fires in Karnataka is between February and April.  

Karnataka has 100 acres of extremely fire prone forest, 1000 acres of very  fire-prone forests, 3,067 acres of highly fire-prone forest and 5,056 acres of moderately fire prone-forest, which forms around 20 percent of the state’s forest cover and 4.8 percent of its land area. The state had 7352 forest fires  between 2004 and 2013. Tanzeem Fatima, research scientist in Karnataka Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute said, “We are studying the forest fires and giving reports to the government.”She said natural causes also contribute to forest fires, not just human interventions.

In 2020-21 under the Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme, Rs. 425lakh was allocated and Rs. 441.85 lakh was approved by the union government.

Land-use changes due to deforestation and urban growth are the main causes of abnormal wildfires and burning of agricultural lands, United Nations report on emerging issues of environmental concern. Sandeep Anirudhan, environmentalist said, “If you go around, you would see most forests are with uniform species. Planting trees with economic value completely changes the forest ecosystem. In mono cropping, there will not be an ecological balance. He explained that trees will only catch fire easily if they are dry, whereas forest with diversity will have a moisture balance when one tree sheds, another blooms.  

Fatima said that the flash and burn cultivation is also the cause of these fires when they are closely associated with a large forest area.

Natural fires are good land maintenance practice in which humans initiate and prevent fires to change  fire regimes. Land clearing, deforestation, agricultural extension, resource extraction, urbanization and rural development are land use changes that can interfere with natural fire regimes, Report by United Nations Environmental Action stated that a number of land use changes can interfere with natural fire regimes, including land clearing, deforestation, agricultural extension, resource extraction, urbanization, and rural development.

“Fire suppression over the past century has led to dense, overgrown forests, and fire removes dead and diseased plants, allowing more sunlight to reach the ground. Healthy small fires lead to ‘islands’ of different microhabitats, which increases biodiversity which in turn increases the resiliency of the ecosystem,” Rajesh, wildlife rescuer with Hope and Beyond said.

Karnataka Town Planning Amendment Bill 2020 allows the offices under the planning authority to change of land-use for the master plan that the government laid out for the state. Karnataka Land Reforms amendment bill 2020 allows the change of land-use from vegetation or forest to industrial or commercial use after permission from the chief secretary. Karnataka government also approves the change in land use with nominal charges. Research shows that there is a deep fall in agricultural land and forest cover but an increase in wastelands more than build-up lands.

 The effects of forest fire on animals report states,  “Animals with limited mobility living above ground appear to be most vulnerable to fire-caused injury and mortality, but occasionally even large mammals are killed by fire.”

Wildfires are sweeping across India. Many animals die in wildfires. Forest fires cause most wildlife deaths due to the loss of habitat and food sources.Rajesh said, “Animals have a honed sense of danger, so when wildfire occurs, most animals sense it and run away or stand in streams to avoid the hazard. Smaller animals take cover in logs, under rocks, or by burying themselves in the dirt. But Wildfire causes wild animals move. This migration causes animals to wander into densely human populated areas.”

Anirudhan believes that awareness can be the only solution to bring down the human-influenced forest fires.

He said, “For an average person, a plot full of eucalyptus trees is also a forest. Essentially, a forest is a diverse ecosystem with factors that give it stability and prevent catastrophes.. Humans have intervened and destroyed the natural eco-system, creating monocrop plantations and claiming it as forestPeople need to understand our eco-system which is dying. Awareness leads to caring.”