Forest is one of the most valuable terrestrial ecosystems that play a crucial role in maintaining environmental balance. It provides numerous goods and services, and maintains life support system essential for life on earth. Forests soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere offsetting anthropogenic emissions. Protecting forests, therefore, has a double-cooling effect, by reducing carbon emissions and by maintaining high levels of evaporation from the canopy. However, forests are in great anthropogenic pressure due to the ever-increasing demand for forest products and dependency of about 60 million forest dependents. The higher dependency of a larger section of rural population has an inhibitory effect on the productivity of forest. It has been estimated that more than 40% poor of the country are living in these forest fringe villages. Thus, forest is a source of livelihood and providing opportunities for poverty reduction to a larger section of rural population.
Reason for forest fire:
The forest fire may be occurs due to both natural and anthropogenic conditions. The natural cause of forest fire is also related to climatic conditions such as temperature, wind speed and direction, level of moisture in soil and atmosphere, duration of dry spells, the friction of bamboos and rolling of stone. Besides the different natural and human-induced responsive agents of a forest fire, the co-factors like forest composition, topography, aspect, altitude, inclination and soil type also liable for increasing intensity and frequency of fire up to certain extent. The anthropogenic pressure significantly increased the rate of deforestation and forest degradation. One such reason is forest fire which has captured the attention worldwide due to the large-scale devastation in the forests of South East Asia, Amazon and the Rocky Mountains of the USA.
India witnessed the most severe forest fires during the summer of 1995 in the hills of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in North West Himalaya. However, more than 90% of all forest fires globally are started by intentional or unintentional human activities like burning, overgrazing, felling, resin tapping, damage to trees/mortality, litter removal, etc. The intensity and frequency of forest fire have been increased drastically due to large-scale expansion of pine forests in many areas of the Himalayas. In this region surface fire is very common but its prevailing terrain occasionally converts surface fire to crown fires. The crown fire often ascends and spreads from pine forest to adjacent oak forests which are economically valuable and ecologically important. The figure 1 and 2 showing a fire in Uttarakhand , India.
Effect of forest fire on soil and environment:
It is devastating and destroys the forest at large scale. Such fires have not only led to threats to the biological diversity of these forests, but also cause large-scale suffering in neighboring lands herald ways for invasive species and modify the atmospheric concentration of gases (like GHG and aerosols) that lead to change in environmental variables (temperature, solar radiation and relative humidity). Thus, forest fires are considered to be a potential hazard with physical, biological, ecological and environmental consequences.
Benefit of forest fire:
The forest fire also has some beneficial impact on forest areas such as placid surface fire turns litter into massive nutrient contained ashes that nourish the soil and influence the healthy growth of annual herbs and grasses. But in long-term, it actually harms the soil dynamics and structure as fire drastically affects the soil properties due to hastily combustion of organic matter present on or near the soil surface.
4. Effect of forest fire on local livelihood:
The India witnessed the most severe forest fires during the summer of 1995 in the hills of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in North West Himalaya. An area of 677,700 ha was affected by fires. The quantifiable timber loss was around Rs. 17.50 crores (US$ 43 million). Forest fire is very common in districts of Uttarakhand and 63.9% area is highly vulnerable to forest fire. The livelihood of 1.6 billion people depends on the forest for a variety of goods (food, fodder, agriculture, housing, and an array of marketable minor forest produces) and services (amelioration of microclimate, water and air purification). Approximately 300 - 400 million people depend on forests directly for their survival, including about 60 million people of indigenous and tribal groups, who almost rely on forests. But the livelihood concerns of these millions of poor people living in and around forest contribute to forest degradation.
The vulnerability is further compounded due to its susceptibility to forest fires. In this region fire often exceeds 4-5 km2 with a recurrence rate of 2-5 years whilst 11% of forest faces annual fire. Thus many local people income is directly impacted due to forest fire. Their crops, house, and animals burned some time due to fire. Their crops yields are dropped when environment polluted due to fire. The lively hood of local people is severely affected due to fire.
Suggestion to handle and prevent forest fire:
Physical prevention measures have concentrated on the construction and maintenance of fuel breaks in the mountainous terrain, and the use of mechanized equipment (tractors with plough) to construct fire breaks in the plains to protect eucalyptus plantations. These measures have proved effective from the standpoint of reducing fire losses and size of fire; they also provide safe access and areas for fire crews to make effective initial attacks on approaching fire fronts. Other preventive measures include prescribed burning of roadside fuel loadings, particularly elephant grass, especially in highly fire-prone locations.
Educational measures to increase awareness of the danger and damage due to forest fire have also been demonstrated by the project. Posters bearing a fire prevention message or fire risk meters have been installed through the divisions in the project areas, to increase public awareness of seasonal fire severity. These measures have been buttressed by a fire awareness week held annually. A survey of villagers' basic attitudes toward forest fires was conducted as a starting-point for developing closer cooperation with rural communities in fire prevention, as well as in detection and suppression. The results of the survey were encouraging in that they revealed that more than half the villagers questioned were aware of the harmful effects of forest fires.
The rural poor should be compensated through payment/reward for ecosystem services for their activities that lead to mitigation. Vulnerability to extreme event in both regions especially forest fire could be reduced by strengthening fire-prevention measures in fire-prone areas. The improved scientific techniques for monitoring and detection should be incorporated.
People living in a rural area in the developing world are comparatively more vulnerable because of higher dependency on natural resources, widespread poverty, marginalization and less adaptation options. Moreover, poverty together with less diversified livelihood and illiteracy augments the vulnerability of mountainous rural communities. Therefore, the employment opportunity should be strengthened by inculcating livelihood diversification programme with the active involvement of Non-Government Organisations. Further education is the integral element for overall development and it lacks in HAZ. The quality education is significantly lacking in both the region. It should be made compulsory (at least up to intermediate) for all children. Higher literacy could also attribute to more diversification in livelihood opportunities, better decision making capability and lesser family dependency. It would strengthen the resilience of people to extreme events, especially during a forest fire. The vulnerability of mountainous region is further augmented by higher dependency on agriculture for food. Although, mountainous agriculture is affected by a forest fire and exaggerated by a number of complexities. Therefore, promising technological intervention together with capacity building on agricultural techniques is required. Moreover, it should also be supported by governmental strategies like compensation for loss, distribution of improved seed, agricultural training or awareness, loan without interest and crop insurance.
The mountainous region has always had either too much or too little water. Furthermore, proper supply of water is an essential constituent for facilitating adaptation. Therefore, watershed management at the micro level and pipeline supply of water should be encouraged. Infrastructure in terms of communication, road network, bank, market and hospital facilitate adaptation in the rural communities. Strategies must be evolved to strengthen the basic requirements and facilities. In addition, the sustainable harvest of forest produce is being promoted. The rural poor should be compensated through payment/reward for ecosystem services for their activities that lead to mitigation. Vulnerability to extreme event in both regions especially forest fire could be reduced by strengthening fire-prevention measures in fire-prone areas. The improved scientific techniques for monitoring and detection should be incorporated. Moreover, suitable silvicultural practices and rehabilitation of burnt land with fast-growing should be considered as an integral element. Protection and rehabilitation can further be improved by the involvement of local people and dissemination of information about the impact of forest fire on livelihood is required.