Published: 19th March 2019
How students in Karnataka are helping stop forests in the state from catching fire
Dealing with forest fires has always been a challenge for forest officials. Determined to combat these fires, they have enlisted the help of children to spread awareness and reduce such incidents
Remember the game Fire On The Mountain, Run, Run, Run? It’s a game that all of us have played during our school days. But did we ever think about how it would actually be if a forest or a mountain was on fire? Who started the fire in these forests or mountains anyway and what can be done to prevent it? It is that time of the year again in Karnataka when many people are pondering over these questions since forest fires are a serious threat here. To fight these fires and help spread awareness about it among villagers, the Forest Department officials and school children joined hands a few years back. Together, they advise villagers to avoid lighting a fire in the forest with the aim of saving both flora and fauna. The awareness programme for preventing forest fires has been running since 1995, but it picked up momentum from the year 2016 when these fires were claiming more and more trees and areas in different regions of Karnataka.
In 2016, the Forest Department decided to involve children to spread environmental consciousness among people living around the forests. Prashanth PKM, Assistant Conservator of Forest, Manchikeri Sub Division says, "We have involved children to create awareness among villagers because they are the future of our nation. If we sow the seed in them about what we can do to protect forests and nature, then they will carry the same message to the future generations too. I personally feel that they are the best medium with which we can convince elders. Not just school children, we even have college students who are a part of this programme. Till date, we have conducted more than 50 awareness camps in Yellapur. And there are several more which have been organised in Coorg, Wayanad, Western Ghats and Mysuru."
Walk an extra mile: Forest officials along with villagers and government school children in Yellapur region take a procession to create awareness about forest fires
The forest department officials, along with the children, start spreading awareness about forest fires from November and it usually goes on till February. They go on long processions and enact street plays in villages. Through these activities, they covey that many animals and their babies die in these fire accidents. "Different animals breed during different seasons. Usually, November and December are the two months during which large mammals like tigers and leopards give birth to their young ones. Despite knowing this fact, some people start fires. These incidents take place in the month of March and sometimes in February. As the condition worsens, these animals face difficulties in shifting their homes. This results in the death of their young ones and their habitat is destroyed as well. During this campaign, we invite prominent people like doctors who are popular in particular forest areas, film actors and local politicians to inform the villagers that the forest belongs to animals and their families," Prashanth explains.
Act it out: Play being enacted to tell the villagers about the consequences of forest fire
This year, the forest officials of Yellapur region printed a calendar which features pictures of fire incidents that have occurred in the past and animals who suffered because of it. It comes with a message that implores people to save forests and wildlife. The ultimate result of all this was there was an 87 per cent reduction in forest fires. Prashanth, who is happy with the results, says, "We conduct research every year to identify fire-prone forest areas. Thanks to the preventive measures taken at the right time, the numbers of forest fires in Yellapur came down in 2017-18. Village Forest Committee (VFC), including villagers, department officials and politicians, was formed and meetings are conducted on a monthly basis. The villagers started guarding the forests and now, they inform us about miscreants. We were able to convert trouble makers into troubleshooters. Some of them came forward to take an oath that they will never start forest fires again."
Informing children: KM Chinnappa, Retired forest officer has been organising awareness campaigns since 1995. It is not just Karnataka but they run programmes in Wayanad forest areas too
Some reasons which cause forest fires
According to the wildlife conservationists and forest officials, 99 per cent of the forest fires are man-made and only one per cent are natural fires. There are several reasons why humans start a fire in forests. There is a common myth among villagers that the grass grows better and faster the next time around if they burn it. It's a wrong perception and has not been proven scientifically. In some cases, people start fires as an act of revenge against officials when they are warned for trespassing the forest or leaving their cattle to graze. Meanwhile, some agriculturists, whose fields share borders with forests, start fires to ensure that animals don't destroy their crops. Incidents also occur when trekkers set up campfires during their trips in the forests.
What they need: Forest department need advanced equipments and human resource to douse the fire that will lead to less damage
The need of the hour
Not just creating awareness through children, forest department needs advanced equipment and staff members for mitigating forest fires. In many parts of Karnataka, the proportion of the forest department staff doesn't tally when compared to the forest cover. Prashanth says, "Our forest department needs more staff to be employed so that more stern supervision can be carried out, especially in critical zones. Under Yellapur subdivision, there are over 1,26,000 hectares of forest land, but there are only 200 forest officials to take care of it. The ratio of forest area and the officials need to tally. Apart from this, the department should be well equipped to douse fires. At present, we put out the fire by using branches and leaves of trees which is difficult. If anyone inhales the carbon produced from these fires for even 10 minutes, then their lungs start choking. We need advanced equipment to douse the fire in a short period so that there is less damage."