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Forest fires, a threat to Uttarakhand’s unique biodiversity

  • Published
    29th Apr, 2023
Context

Forest fires are becoming more frequent and fierce in Uttarakhand. 

What’s at stake?

  • Uttarakhand is home to at least 102 species of mammals, 70 reptiles, 19 amphibians, and 124 species of fish. The state also boasts 600 species of birds.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies 55 of the bird species as “threatened”, of which six are critically endangered and four are endangered.
  • Several mammalian fauna found in the state are also classified as endangered. The list includes the Asian elephant, tiger, Alpine musk deer, Himalayan musk deer, leopard, snow leopard, blue sheep, Himalayan Thar, leopard cat, Himalayan black bear, sloth bear, and pangolin.
  • With 7,000 species of plants, Uttarakhand contributes 31 percent of the country’s floral diversity. As many as 119 flowering plants are endemic to the state.

How does it impact?

  • Loss and displacement of species: The impact of recurrent forest fires in Uttarakhand is not limited to the direct loss of trees and wildlife, their displacement, and the subsequent colonization of unwanted species.
  • Pushing towards extinction: Forest fires can meddle with the life cycle of species and push many of the threatened and endemic species closer to extinction.
    • Affecting growth: By destroying the leaves and foliage, a forest fire can significantly reduce the photosynthetic activity of surviving trees and thereby affect their growth.
    • Affected seedlings: It can also damage the seed bank, both above and below the ground, and wipe out the seedlings and saplings growing on the forest floor.
  • Impact on recovery rate: The loss of keystone organisms in forest ecosystems, such as invertebrates, pollinators, and decomposers, can significantly slow the recovery rate of the forest.
  • The serious impact of reproduction: Forest fires can also interfere with the reproduction and propagation of certain plants and animals. Such recurrent events can be deadly to the species that are native or endemic to the region.

Suggestive measures

The below steps would not only minimize instances of forest fire but also protect biodiversity from such an event.

  • Collect fuel load in time: Pine needles and dry leaf litter are the common fire materials that occur on the forest floor. These should be cleared by collecting them before January when the fire season begins in Uttarakhand.
  • Fix fire line: The creation of a fire line is often delayed in Uttarakhand. This pattern needs to be changed and a timely (before February) excavation of the fire line should be ensured.
  • Install fire watch towers: There is an urgent need for these towers in this hilly state with undulating topography, especially in areas that have a history of forest fires.
  • Applying management techniques: There is also an urgent need to understand management techniques such as
    • promoting habitat-specific research to limit burning, especially in biodiversity-rich and water-supply areas
    • establish a well-equipped center for unbiased dissemination of information
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