Mysore/Mysuru: With literally no vehicles or a few vehicles on the roads that pass through the Bandipur and Nagarahole Tiger Reserves, lockdown has brought many benefits to the forests. So much so that this year, not a single major fire has been reported from both the National Parks.
The lockdown measures have resulted in drastic reduction in pollution and wild animals have increasingly been spotted entering urban areas. At Bandipur and Nagarahole, remarkably there were no major infernos even during this peak summer season, usually when the Forest Department officials are on their toes to prevent fires.
Though the Forest Department claims that they were alert and were ready to face any fire incidents even during lockdown, they cannot dismiss the fact that the absence of movement inside the forest was indeed the major reason for ‘no forest fire season’ this year. Early monsoon too has contributed to this.
Absence of human activity
Forest fires not striking the Reserves also underscores the belief of the Forest Department that the majority of forest fires are man-made. “This could be attributed to the reduced human interference in forest fringes and forest routes following the lockdown. The forest tracts were free from any human activity and this might have resulted in the sharp decline in the number of incidents,” admit Forest officials.
Bandipur and Nagarahole used to be in the throes of forest fire in the summer months of March – April and also May. But this time, there was huge drop in fire incidents. In 2019, 12,000 acres of Bandipur forests were burnt due to a major fire.
According to senior forest officials, humans and their vested interests are the main reasons for over 90 per cent of the fire incidents. “Unfortunately, it is not the tribals or villagers who set fire to the forests but the educated lot who travel in vehicles and SUVs throw lit cigarette butts inside the forests and this is the major reason for infernos,” a Forest Officer said.
Also, the Forest Department has claimed that there were no incidents of fire at least in Bandipur as officers and staff took people living in villages on the periphery of forests into confidence and chalked out many welfare programmes for them.
After the devastating fire last year, the Department staff learnt a valuable lesson and maintained cordial relationship with them. Investigations into the fire had revealed that the conflict between Forest Department and the tribals resulted in forest fires. Some tribals avenged their ill-treatment by setting fire deep inside jungles. Also, the tribals set fire to forests to prevent wild animals from straying into their habitat.
To cement this discord between Department personnel and locals, officials permitted tribals to run canteens inside Bandipur camp and also conducted programmes like ‘Chinnara Darshana’ where tribal children were taken for free safaris inside the Tiger Reserve. Also, tribals were involved in many routine tasks like creating fire lines and were sensitised on the importance of conserving nature.
These measures helped boost confidence and gradually the tribals began to trust the Department and also the Department staff treated tribals as friends of forests, said officials.