Sunday, June 03, 2012

The mountains are getting burnt & degraded

   Fire is one of the important force that has shaped the Human civilization, it was approximately around 400 million years ago that fire first appeared and the key to this transformation was vegetation. Land plants that had just appeared provided fuel for fire that took in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and pumped back large quantities of oxygen; providing the second most essential ingredient for fire - oxygen, brought about by the process of photosynthesis. The triggering of a wild fire was the lightning, that gave in mankind's hand fire to keep warm and to survive harsh cold winters. 

   The notion that fire can be a useful tool became known to early humans when they first took advantage of fire’s effects on the African savannas several million years ago to manipulate vegetation and wildlife. The threat that fire posed to their security and livelihoods was likely obvious to these early people too. As humankind spread throughout the world, they created new fire regimes that continued to shape and modify landscapes. There also continued to be fires that destroyed homes, crops, livestock and other resources. There has always been these “two faces of fire”—beneficial fire and detrimental fire.*1 

   Fire has become a conservation issue because many areas around the world depend on fire to maintain native species, habitats and landscapes. These are fire-dependent ecosystems. Conversely, there are other areas where fire can lead to the destruction or loss of native species and habitats. These areas are called fire-sensitive ecosystems. Services provided by ecosystems such as clean air, clean water and healthy and productive soils can be affected negatively or positively by fire depending on the adaptations of the species and other characteristics of the environment, and on how often and how intensely an area burns. These facts are just beginning to come to light in the relatively new science of fire ecology.*2

   But the wild fires in and around Panchgani, situated along the western Ghats are mostly caused by anthropogenic reasons every year creating degraded soils and loss of rich biodiversity. These are fire-sensitive  ecosystem which can have adverse effects on  the soil, native vegetation and fauna. Here fire is caused by naked flame, cigarette or bidi, electric spark or any source of ignition coming into contact with dry grass or inflammable material. The wild fire almost cook the soil reaching 100 to 150 degree celsius destroying the topmost fertile soil and making it hydrophobic soils - causing erosion.

   There are many reasons as to why people burn the dry grass even though being aware of the harm caused by wild fire or Vanva. One of the reason being the belief that if they burn the old grasses new set of fresh grasses will take its place which is not true, it is rather more poor and less nutritive ones that take its place that is to say less sensitive to fire. Such fire destroys also the rich seed bank in the shallow soil that is necessary for the growth of vegetation. 

   The other being, it requires less time or human effort to clear tall grasses making the path visible especially when you want to go to your field but in this way a lot of important organisms are destroyed which has its own functions in the ecosystem and also giving rise to accelerated erosion carrying away essential fertile soil and not allowing water to percolate into the ground resulting in decreased groundwater table. The burning of vegetation gives off not only carbon dioxide but also a host of other, noxious gases (green house gases) such as carbon monoxide, methane, hydrocarbons, nitric oxide and nitrous oxide, that lead to global warming and ozone layer depletion. 

   I see people today are not keen on growing grass or other native trees that preserves or restores back the ecosystem or the flow at the spring source. It is driven nowadays by external economic factors of industrialization and urbanization. We tend to forget that we can never give back to nature, it is the nature that provides. Our only role is to conserve and preserve it. I am reminded of an African proverb that fits quite well here.

"The world is not ours, the earth is not ours , it is a treasure we hold in trust for future generation"  

Rich in biodiversity and a pristine forest located on the opposite side of the valley
(Reserved Forest Land).
 Location Kamalgad, Wai

Springs originating in forest land. Location Kamalgad, Wai  

Recent forest fire in Panchgani where flames reached also the crown of the tree and shrubs.
Surface fire burning dry leaves, twigs and grasses destroying many animal habitats.

These very image was a lush and thick shrubby and grassy area -  a habitat for the Jungle fowl and Jungle Bush Quail destroyed completely by fire.
Huge burned patches seen in black colour  near Panchgani. 

Degraded and barren slope before the wild fire, near Dhoom Dam, Wai (May 2012)

After the wild fire, near Dhoom Dam, Wai (June 2012) 

*1,2 Ronald L Myers (2006): Living with Fire— Sustaining Ecosystems & Livelihoods Through Integrated Fire Management, The Nature Conservancy

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