Fires in reserve forests outside Nagarhole raise concern

BENGALURU:  While the Forest Department is concentrating on fighting forest fires in protected areas, forest fires in reserve forest areas of Kodagu district since February 25 have caused extensive damage. Local activists say that forest fires, that raged for 10-11 days, have destroyed more than 200 acres in the central and eastern parts of the district — all outside Nagarhole National Park. It subsided only by March 7.
A visit by this reporter revealed major fires in patches right from Maldhare to the area behind Dubare Elephant Camp and moving towards Aanekaadu, which is in fact visible from the road. Some fires were as tall as 60 feet high.

Dry bamboo, uncleared lantana bushes and plantation species burnt all night. Very few measures have been taken and even that seems to be restricted only to those patches that are near the highway and frequented by tourists.Naturalist Machu Machaiah Max Appaiah says, “With conflict between local people and the Forest Department and human settlements being moved away from Polibetta area, there has been a lot of friction and people have resorted to burning patch after patch. Further, tribal communities, who are involved in collection of plant material for the agarbathi industry, are blocked by the staff and this has resulted in a lot of resentment.”

“Forest staff look helpless and clueless,” Machaiah adds. Some burnings in interior areas are so remote that there is neither any access nor connectivity. Further, this is the time when tigers, foxes and other animals come out of Nagarhole to Dubare forests. This is also the time when one can see animals breeding on Gadigebetta hilly area on the Lingapura side. Aavaregunda and Aamale in Dubare Range are the worst affected, while in the Aanekadu Range, the affected areas stretch from Kushalnagar to Suntikoppa.

According to activists, Aanekadu was burning earlier this week. “The movement of wildlife from protected areas to reserve forests is very frequent and has been rising due to increasing population of tigers and elephants. What will be their plight in such a situation?” an activist questioned.The Forest Department needs to investigate into deliberate burning of 200 acres in these two ranges and immediate fire control measures need to be initiated, say wildlife activists. “Do not concentrate only on wildlife areas, but also reserve and other forest areas in the state. They are a precious stretch of forests,” said an activist.

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