My First Encounter with Forest Fires

By Akshit Awasthi, Intern

One of the main environmental issues faced in the Western Himalayas are the rapid increase of forest fires in the last 2-3 years. Tourism has also been on the rise in places like Tirthan Valley, and the other nearby areas of Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh. Himalayan Ecotourism, a social enterprise located in Gushaini, Tirthan Valley has been taking serious steps towards spreading awareness among the local communities and fighting the depletion of the natural resources in the valley. Stephan Marchal, the founder of Himalayan Ecotourism has been a leader in protecting the valley from forest fires and other environmental issues which not only harms the ecosystem but also the livelihood of the local community.

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The forest fires in Himachal Pradesh, have been brought under control with rains in the lower hills dousing the ground fires, even as self-help group comprising villages have been formed in blaze-prone districts and seven hundred firewatchers deployed in the pine belt. The most common assets in forest fires are as old the forest themselves. The number of forest fires has been increasing rapidly in Himachal Pradesh. The problem has been according to the growing human and cattle population. People enter forest even more frequently to graze cattle, collect fuel wood, timber and other minor forest products, it has been estimated that 92% of forest fire in Himachal Pradesh are man-made.

When I joined as an intern in Himalayan ecotourism, I got an opportunity to understand this issue very closely. I was only seeking adventures as a mountaineer but here with HET, the main objective of the organization is their initiative to stop forest fire which is to control and strengthen protection of forests in Tirthan valley, Banjar area of Himachal Pradesh. HET is creating awareness among local people and educating villagers in Tirthan Valley to show the importance of preventing forest fires in the dense forests. By the rapid increase of forest fires in Tirthan Valley, Banjar, HET has taken a step towards the innovative ideas that how the forest fires can be stopped to save the wildlife of Great Himalayan National Park and livelihood of local inhabitants.

I got to understand the different environmental and social issues due to forest fires in the mountains which directly affect the livelihood of the people which has resulted in huge losses of agricultural produce, acute scarcity of water and less rainfall Forest fires in Kullu valley are causing an imbalance in nature and endangering biodiversity by reducing its wealth in flora and fauna. There are traditional methods of fire prevention which are proving ineffective due to the magnitude of the fires and it is now essential to raise public awareness on the matter related to Forest fires, particularly among those people who live close to forested areas of Tirthan valley.

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