Forest fire a burning issue for Karnataka government: Forest department officials

Staff shortage, poor awareness on conserving forests should be addressed; fire line practice should be reviewed on a regular basis.
A fire that broke out a week ago in Bandipur destroyed hundreds of acres
A fire that broke out a week ago in Bandipur destroyed hundreds of acres

MYSURU:The raging forest fire that destroyed hundreds of acres in Bandipur National Park and in Biligiriranganatha Swamy Tiger Reserve for the last couple of days, has posed many challenges to both the state government and Forest Department to save forest and the wildlife.

Winds, dried up waterholes and virtually nothing left for more than 6,000 elephants have made the forest more vulnerable during summer.

The stretch that starts from Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, BRT, M M Hills, Bandipur and Nagarahole in Karnataka is surrounded by Sathyamangalam, Masanagudi and Wayanad forest spread across Tamil Nadu and Kerala, needs better management and co-ordination among the departments and the local population.
Though many forest officials maintain that the fire is due to vengeance and greed in Bandipur and other areas, it is time that the department needs to be further strengthened by dividing the forest into compartments.

Sources in the department said  fire line practice was not done seriously in the last 10 years.
There is acute storage of ground staff in the department and it can’t take the responsibility to protect long stretches of forest spread in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and and Kerala borders.

The government and policymakers should take satellite images weekly or fortnightly to review the fire line works inside the forest, they added.

Retired forest officer A C Lakshmana said the forest destroyed requires at least 300 years to return to normalcy. He said the government should appoint adequate staff in the  department, keep a strict vigil making fire line mandatory and review satellite images from time to time.

Meanwhile, the newly deputed or transferred staff should have complete knowledge about the geography, topography of different forests. They should be given tips on dousing fire from local tribals and senior officials, he added.

Honorary wildlife warden Mallesha said the forest fire in BRT sanctuary is under control. He felt the need for awareness on conserving forest and wildlife in local population.

Refuting charges that a few tribals are behind forest fire, director of NGO Deed Sreekanth said tribals setting fire in their cultivated land is an old practice. The question does not arise now as tribals are not allowed to cultivate land inside the forest. “It is unfortunate that NGOs and tribals are seen as villains for pressing for Forest Rights Act when there are 1.5 lakh tribals living in Mysuru, Chamarajnagar and Kodagu districts,” he said.

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The New Indian Express