Saving forests from fire to improve environment

It is joint responsibility of communities, forest dept to take preemptive steps to protect natural asset

A fire in the dense forests of Balakot rages on endangering the wildlife in the area. PHOTO: EXPRESS


Forest fire is an integral part of natural forests and is therefore an important subject of forest management.

Recent forest fires in Pakistan, mostly in the subtropical mountain Chir pine zone in the lesser Himalaya, have generated a great deal of public debate and the irony is that the issue is politicised and blame game has started.

Forest fire occurs due to two main reasons. Firstly, hot and dry weather that causes forest ground biomass inflammability and secondly, the dropping of burning match stick, igniting fire for cooking, clearing forest biomass debris, burning grass or other vegetation by communities living in and around forests.

TikTokers, social media enthusiasts and youth are more often engaging in such activities for fun and leave behind burning wood or coal that spreads fire in the presence of increased quantity of inflammable biomass on the ground.

This year is extremely dry for a very long period of time and therefore, the forest biomass got dry to the extent that a slight fire turns into forest fire that spreads quickly.

The normal forest fire season in Pakistan, particularly in the Chir pine forest zone, is from March through June depending on precipitation or the onset of monsoon.

The biomass present on the ground gets too dry coupled with the presence of highly inflammable resin in the coniferous forests that catch fire easily. This is exactly what happened in the recent forest fires in Pakistan.

The chances of igniting forest fires have greatly increased as there is an increased road network and accessibility to forests, urban sprawl has turned forests into habitations, tourism and picnic trips have increased and youngsters and families love to go for outing, enjoy cooking and leave behind burning coal, etc
in forests.

Local community also ignites fire at the grazing or agricultural land to burn all sorts of vegetation to collect ash as manure for the next grass or different crops and in this process the fire sometimes gets out of control and spreads.

Earlier, foresters and local communities stood together in not only preventing forest fires but also fought it in case of spread of the fire, but now gone are the days when the forest dwelling communities came for the protection of forests from fire, theft and illegal logging.

Foresters used to erect fire watch towers at the ridges, which were manned round the clock by the forest staff, who reported any visible smoke or fire for
immediate control.

The forest department also used to hire aircraft for dropping awareness leaflets in the forest areas of Hazara, Swat and Dir, which I recall from my early days in forest service.

Forest fire is part of the forestry manual, which provides pre- and post-fire control measures, but I don’t think it
is followed.

In view of the above exposition and the fact that forest fire is a reality, the blame game is baseless and conspiracy theories are spread by those who neither know the forest fire dynamics nor its causes and remedies.

We have failed to use social media or print or electronic media for awareness campaigns about forest fire and the role and responsibility of nature-loving citizens to save the natural asset, which controls pollution, improves environment in the face of climate change, conserve water, reduces soil erosion and provides many other
economic benefits.

Foresters are equally responsible as they have stopped short of following the old but effective fire control measures nor do they use any innovative methods and techniques.

The local community has also failed to take preemptive measures and help in controlling forest fire.

This attitude of citizens, communities and foresters should change so that we stand together in controlling forest fire. We must play our part at individual, community and institutional levels as responsible citizens in protecting the natural asset.

The writer is a PhD in forest management and served K-P forest department before joining civil service


Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2022.

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