MYSORE: The forest fire incidents reported from Bandipur and some small patches at Nagarhole Tiger Reserve recently have become an issue of great concern both for the forest officials and the environmentalists.
It is feared that these incidents would lead to a scarcity of elephant food in the years to come as the bamboo, which had germinated very well in last two years in most parts of the Western Ghats, would be destroyed.
The ground fire and destroying of bamboo plants would be a bane for more than in 3,000 elephants, including 1,500 elephants in Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks. Some forest fires are accidental, but many are lit by the miscreants, a few vengeful local tribes and poachers who are booked in the timber smuggling or poaching cases, it is learnt. However, the reason for the forest fire in Kalkere falling in the core areas spread across 900 sq kms in Bandipur National Park, is yet to be ascertained.
This summer, particularly the next two months, would turn out to be the most challenging task for the forest officials as the mischief mongers will take advantage of the dry spell to settle scores with the forest personnel, if they have any, it is said.
Generally, the forest officials are supposed to notice fire in every 10 kms in forest areas and the check the spread of fire. In Nagarahole alone, more than 12 incidents of forest fire took place at Veeranahosahalli, Mettikuppe and Anthara Santhe areas. Barring in one or two places, the forest personnel, along with temporary watchers from local haadis, controlled the spread of fire within two hours recently. However, the high wind and the dried up bamboo bushes have become a worry for them. They have to struggle hard to control the fire as the flames spread wildly inside the forest.
Recently, some forest fire cases were reported during Shivaratri as the locals had gone to offer puja in the fringe areas of the forest. The weekends are another concern as many of them working in coffee estates return to their haadi and enjoy their stay. Miscreants sometimes set fire to elephant dung inside the forest. The fire catches up slowly and they escape from the woods.
The Forest Department, with around 300 staff, including 18 members from Special Tiger Protection Force. There are 400 temporary guards deputed around the clock in watchtowers spread in 643 sq kms with a boundary of 256 kms to observe animal movements, smoke and pass on information to the officials through wire sets.
A national park needs sufficient manpower to handle the situation, guard the forest, wild life and resources. The department has kept a tight vigil on the movement of the miscreants who spread rumours in and the forest areas. The density of elephants and other animals has increased following the increase in the levels of Kabini backwaters. At Nagarhole Park, there are more than 70 tigers and a phenomenal increase in the siting of leopards. The department has also banned illegal fishing in backwaters and tourists from smoking.
People prefer estate work over jobs in forest: DFO
Nagarhole DFO Vijayaranjan Singh said, “We have deployed additional men and vehicles to control the fire and rush to spots based on the information.” He said that the ground level staff fighting fire are given food, water and a wage of `167. “But they are interested to work in coffee estates as they can earn `300 per day,” he observed adding that they need more ground level staff to notice and check the forest fires when such incidents are simultaneously reported from five or six places.