Leaf Blowing and Killing Branches: India’s Forest Fire Fight | Wildlife

AThe treacherous region of Semipal National Park is rapidly engulfed in flames, turning everything on the ground to smoky ashes, with women in pursuit. Is throwing them دوپٹاس Sweat dripping from their foreheads, on their shoulders, they flare up with the branches of leaf litter. Around it, a Forest Department official, equipped only with leaf blowers, removes the blazing leaves from the path.

Eventually, as the Smilepal hills in the Indian state of Odisha became too steep, the women retreated. “It’s very smoky and hot, but for the past two weeks, we’ve been helping to put out the fire in every way we can,” said Sanjukta Basa, chair of a local environmental NGO. Sanggram.

Painting of lions outside the Forest Rangers office
A painting outside the Forest Rangers office. Animals at risk from fire include lions. Photo: Kiran Khosla / The Guardian

For more than a month, the Semippel National Park and Tiger Reserve have been burning, making Asia’s second largest biosphere reserve devastating. Living in this fragile ecosystem are lions, leopards, elephants, deer, wild boar, pangolins, harleys, more than 200 species of birds and about 3 3000 species of plants, including rare orchids and many more. Medicines are used by indigenous communities. , Called adivasis, Who live in the reserve and the surrounding 1,200 villages.

Basa leads a group of 10 women who work to protect Smilepel. In recent weeks, they have become firefighters trying to contain the blaze. But fighting wildfires here is not an easy task. Practically unforgivable, the Sampel forests cover 2,150 square miles (5,570 sq km) and cover a steep, treacherous region, meaning they are largely inaccessible except for the foothills.

No fire engines can reach these areas, so state forest officials and volunteers use the resources they have – leaf blowers and branches. “It’s difficult, sometimes the fire is eight to 10 feet high, so we had no hope,” Basa said.

This forest fire is caused by humans. They were started by a minority of hunting and local indigenous tribes, who use flames for hunting and stealing purposes. This year’s fire has been the worst in Smilepal’s history as many believe the collision could have been avoided.

Forest officials are battling flames in an area known as the Elephant Corridor.
Forest officials are battling flames in an area known as the Elephant Corridor. Photo: Kiran Khosla / The Guardian

Vanu Mitra Acharya, a Jango activist and co-founder of Sangram, says he has “never seen such a fire” in his 20 years working at Smilepal. Along with the region’s changing climate, he says, the government is accused of widening communication gaps and mistrust between the government’s forest department and tribal communities.

“We haven’t had rain for about five months, which is very unusual, so the leaves on the ground are burning like paper,” says Acharya. “But other than that, the forest department has lost the trust of the tribal communities, who are usually the first to start the fire.” Unlike in previous years, these villages did not call for warning and did not fight the fire.

He added: “This failure of communication and the failure of the government to act properly and expeditiously when the fire first broke out is why the semiprecious is still burning.”

Parts of Manchhandha Reserve forest have been destroyed by fire.
Parts of the Manchhandha Reserve in Odisha have been destroyed by fire. Photo: Kiran Khosla / The Guardian

Since February 11, more than 3,400 fires have been detected in the four divisions of the national park, including about 350 in the lion’s den. While most are extinguished, some remain burning. The Odisha Forest Department was accused of being ready and the National Tiger Conservation Authority has warned tiger reserves across India to be vigilant and take precautionary measures against similar fires.

Some have accused the Odisha state government of showing no interest in fighting the fire. Save a simple social media campaign It started gaining momentum in early March. The government says no large trees or lions, elephants or human lives have been lost. However, environmentalists say the fire will leave semiprecious behind for decades, and the local NGO Antiodia Chetna Mandal estimates that the fire has affected about 25 percent of the national park’s flora and fauna.

A video asking for help to save Smileypal National Park.

“The forest department says there was no severe damage, which is ridiculous,” said Basujit Mohanty, secretary of the Odisha Wildlife Society.

“The biodiversity of the semiprecious has been greatly affected. Birds, snakes, lizards, monitor lizards, peacocks and penguins would all be engulfed in flames, but you won’t see them because they would be reduced to ashes. Thousands of medicinal plants and plants necessary for the forest ecosystem have been cleared.

“Smilepel is famous for its orchids – it has 95 species – and thousands will perish.”

Elephants and deer before a fire breaks out in Smilepal National Park
Elephants and deer before a fire breaks out in Smilepal National Park Photo: Courtesy JD Patti

The blaze was mostly blamed on the Adivasi community, who make up about 75 per cent of the villages in Smilepal. Nevertheless, when some tribal hunters are involved and use fire to help provide fodder for Mahuva flowers, which are used to make wine, most say it is just a small minority. ۔

“Our village has always protected the forests,” says Takram Soren, a small village leader who overlooks the forest. “We have faced strong resistance from other villages as we are preventing all illegal activities from the forests such as logging, poaching, burning, even picking leaves,” he said. We are worried because we have never seen it burn like this.

Rabindra Mohanty, leader of the local environmental protection group Wana Conservation Committee, which is at the forefront of fighting the fire in Semilypal, says some forest department personnel are deployed thousands of square miles away, but the only way to stop the fire The way is to empower the local Adivasis

A slow shell reveals how fire affects both large and small creatures.
A lazy shell caught in the fire. Wildlife groups say Smilepel has had a huge impact on biodiversity. Photo: Kiran Khosla / The Guardian

“Some people in the forest department can’t do much, only the Assamese community that lives nearby can save the forest from fire,” says Mohanty. “These people love the forest. Nature is still the God they worship from life to death.

“The forest department needs to pay the promised financial compensation to listen to them, work with them and help them fight the fire.”

However, it is a Sisyphean task for the Forest Department officers in charge of large areas of Smilepal, which has limited resources and personnel. They include 33-year-old Sanihalta Dhal, who has been a Forest Department officer for a decade. She says she is trying day and night to fight the fire in her area of ​​8 square miles (20 square kilometers) with nothing but branches. Like a video of her crying with joy It finally rained on Smilepel last week Went viral

Standing in front of a small fire.
After fighting the fire day and night, when it rained, Snehalta Dhal cried with joy. Photo: Kiran Khosla / The Guardian

Dhal says: “I am doing my best to work with the local villagers but more education is needed to prevent these teachings from being set on fire. However, the important thing is to provide alternative livelihoods for these people. They can’t depend on the forest so much that this is the way to fire.

Sangram is one of the few groups that have worked to bridge the gap between the state and the Adivasis in an effort to save Smilepal. His methods are extraordinary, setting up a traditional street theater group to perform the Adivasis, and spreading the message of how to save the jungle, which is their home and their religion. Last week, as the smoke from a forest fire hung heavily in the air, the mob reached the neighboring village of Simlaspal, where their songs slowly pulled people out of their homes.

“Let’s save the forest that gives us life and the trees that give us oxygen,” he sang. “No more fires in Semilypal.”

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