Forgotten fires claim 627 hectares of forest land in Himachal - Hindustan Times

Forgotten fires claim 627 hectares of forest land in Himachal

By, Shimla
May 27, 2024 01:07 PM IST

The figure for forest land destroyed in Himachal 2024-25 till May has already neared the 2023-24 tally

Despite politics heating up in the state, which goes to polls on June 1 in the final phase of the Lok Sabha polls, environmental issues of the forest fires-hit Himachal have found little mention in the discourse.

A total of 627 incidents of forest fires have been recorded in Himachal since April. (HT Photo)
A total of 627 incidents of forest fires have been recorded in Himachal since April. (HT Photo)

Blazes have been raging across the state, particularly in the chir pines in the middle belt, severely impacting the flora and fauna. Due to a spell of dry weather, the forest fire began a month early this year.

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A total of 627 incidents of forest fires have been recorded in the state since April. They are more common in the Shimla, Solan, Bilaspur, Mandi and Kangra districts.

Forest fires have destroyed the flora and fauna on 6,048 hectares of forest land till May 22, forest officials said. The department has estimated a loss of 1,40, 88,628.

Kangra, Hamirpur, Mandi worst hit

Dharamshala Circle in Kangra district recorded a maximum of 159 fire incidents, in which 289.5 hectares of plantation area was burnt. Hamirpur recorded the second highest 115 fires, Mandi 93, Nahan 82, Bilaspur 60, Solan 58, Chamba 21, Shimla 20, Rampur 10, WL South 4, WL North and Kullu 1.

Pine trees usually begin to shed their pines from mid-April to May end, the time when the mercury also begins to soar. The pines are highly combustible as they contain high resin content. Heaps of the needles spread across the forest land easily catch fire, but there is another facet to the problem: the practice of waste burning by the communities living in the vicinity of these forests.

“The natural incidents of fire are not very frequent. Most of the incidents are caused by people setting fires unintentionally and intentionally. Many times people set forests on fire for good growth of fodder grass,” Conservator Forest (Fires) Nishant Mandotra said. “We are hopeful that the dry spell will be broken, and adequate measures have been taken to keep a check on forest fire incidents.”

Himachal has a total of 2,026 forest beats. Of these, 339 are very sensitive, 667 are sensitive and 1,020 are less prone to forest fires.

Mandi leads with leads the list with 82 vulnerable beats, followed by Shimla with 49, Dharamshala 37, Rampur 35, Nahan 32, Bilaspur 27, Chamba 18, Wildlife Dharamshala 17, Kullu 12, Hamirpur 9 and Great Himalayan National Park nine beats.

Alarm bells ringing

The large number of incidents have set the alarm bells ringing.

Environmental justice activist and researcher since 1998, Manshi Asher, says “Over 50 different social and environmental organisations and individuals from the Himalayan states and other parts of the country are running a campaign, ‘People for Himalayas’ to draw the attention of the political parties towards issues related to the environment.”

“The past year, 2023, began with the spotlight on the horrific land subsidence in Joshimath, Uttarakhand, followed by a series of disasters in Himachal in July and August,” he notes, expressing hope that environmental issues find a greater space in political discourse.

“The impacts of the dry winters of 2024 with little or no snowfall in the region will be evident. Questions related to the impact of these disasters and their systemic causes continue to stare the entire Himalayan region in the face,” Asher, who is associated with the Palampur-based Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective, adds.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief spokesperson Mahendra Dharmani also took note of the the large number of forest fires causing irreparable damage in Shimla, Solan and various other regions, saying, “There are multifaceted repercussions of the fires, it causes peril to both wildlife and the environment. Beyond the immediate destruction of forest cover, the fires have triggered a domino effect, jeopardising vital water sources and even impacting glaciers due to the intense heat.”

“This cascading threat not only endangers the delicate ecosystem but also imperils the heritage of water, forest, and land that the state holds dear,” he adds.

Animals migrate to farmlands for food

The forest fires have also forced wild animals to move towards human settlements in search of food. The animals are damaging crops in the fields, leaving farmers worried, especially around the capital where tomato, beans, capsicum, cabbage, onion, cucumber, okra, and other crops are being grown.

According to the forest department, the scarcity of food caused by the fires have compelled the wild animals to flee to farmlands. Hares, wild boars, barking deer, ghoral and porcupines are among the animal species inhabiting the forests that have been the worst-hit by the fires..

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