The forest department has decided to send SMS alerts to forest guards to keep them updated about forest fires in the state.
In 2016, wildfires gutted over 4,000 hectares of forest land. The move will help strengthen communication between nearly 3000 forest guards spread across 37 forest divisions and protected areas as the forest fire season has officially begun on February 15. The season ends on June 15.
“We used to send alerts to divisional forest officers (DFO) till last year, but from this year we will also alert our forest guards through text messages,” RK Mahajan, principal conservator of forest and head of forest force (HoFF) said on Thursday.
The department is also ready to give handsets with sim cards to the guards. At places where the forest is dense and lacks connectivity, the officers will use wireless handsets, informed Mahajan.
Two forest fires have already been reported in Uttarakhand this year at the Nanda Devi National Park in Chamoli.
Corbett and Rajaji national parks have geared up to combat the natural calamity and leaves of officials have been cancelled. “We have cancelled leaves as this is the most sensitive time of the year and more staff means better control on wildfires,” Sanatan Sonkar, director Rajaji Tiger Reserve said.
Forest minister Dinesh Agarwal will meet forest officers on February 27 and discuss their preparedness to deal with wildfires. The department, which has already lost revenue worth ₹46 lakh due to burning of trees and loss to ecosystem last year, is working on strengthening its ground to deal with the situation.
However, even after much deliberation, the department couldn’t come up with a plan to utilise the highly combustible pine needles. “Pine needles collect on the ground and cause forest fires. It’s sad that despite being aware of this loophole, there’s hardly anything being done about it,” a forest officer requesting anonymity said.
There were talks of using pine needles to make briquettes, but nothing has been done. “We are looking into its possibilities,” Mahajan said.