Similipal: Asia’s second-largest biosphere reserve continues to burn

The Forest Survey of India (FSI) has recorded as many as 686 active wildfire events within Odisha, as of March 8.

Wildfire has been spreading in the forest of the Odisha, the Similipal reserve since the end of February. A forest fire has been a regular case of worry in the area because of its dry weather. The unexpected arrival of summer in February gave rise to the wildfires. The Odisha state government claims to have the fire under control.

As per the reports, the fire spread to the whole of Anandapur, Khandachira, and Balinal hills under the Podadiha forest range in the southern part of Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR). Mituani and Kendumundi forests under the Hakurmunda range were also engulfed in the fire.

The Forest Survey of India (FSI) has recorded as many as 686 active wildfire events within Odisha, as of March 8. The Fire Alert System managed by FSI also recorded over 350 fire points within the last week. These uncontainable forest fires can be the result of a lack of proper planning and a lack of measures at hand.

According to the reports, the secretary of Odisha revealed that the officials delayed the restoration of water bodies. The shortage of water in the reserve led to an infuriated wildfire. She also said that the wild animals have started to migrate to human settlement areas since large parts of forests are being occupied by the state.

What is Similipal reserve and why is it important?

Similipal National Park is a national park and a tiger reserve in the Mayurbhanj district in the Indian state of Odisha. It covers over 2700 km2 in the area.

The name Similipal is derived from the prosperity of red silk cotton trees named ‘Simul’ growing in the area. It is considered to be the 7th largest National Park in India and the second largest biosphere in Asia. It had been added to the list of Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO back in 2009 for its critical resources.

The reserve is home to 94 species of orchids and about 3000 species of plants. The species of recognized fauna consist of 12 species of amphibians, 264 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles, and 42 species of mammals. Sal is the prevailing species of tree in the forest. It is also home to the Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, and chausingha.

Is wildfire in Similipal a regular occurrence?

The forest area lays vulnerable to fire throughout the autumn season. It has become a recurrent annual phenomenon due to the soaring temperature, lightning, and lack of abundant water resources. The month of January and February observed rainfall of 10.8 and 21mm, respectively. The last major occurrence of wildfires in the area was reported back in 2015.

Man-made factors also come into play such as poaching and hunting down wild animals. The poachers set a small patch of forest on fire to reroute the wild animals which can lead to such fires. The villagers set the areas on fire to remove the dry leaves and ease of collection of mahua flowers. The locals use these flowers to make drinks that are addictive in nature. Patches of sal trees are also burnt for better growth.

This year, the human factors and advanced heatwave with the early onset of summer additionally deteriorated the condition leading to immense wildfire led to wildfire.

A raging fire in Similipal caught by the satellite image of NASA

The satellite pictures of NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System of forest fires showed up the fire in the area. This came up after the claims of the fire being under control by the forest officials.

The Near Real-Time (NRT) active fire data of within 3 hours of satellite observation from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites and NASA's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) showed at least a hundred fire spots in Similipal biosphere reserve, spread over an area of 5569 sq km.

Measures Taken

The special secretary of the state forest department stated last Thursday that only 60% of the reported fire points got attended. It is crucial that all the fire points get attended in a prioritized manner. Efforts to extinguish the fire before it spreads to nearby forests must be taken. All-out efforts should take place to prevent wildfires. Range officers must implement effective foot patrolling, surveillance, and sensitization of Vana Suraksha Samiti members and forest dwellers.

21 squads, led by deputy rangers, formed for each range to deal with the wildfires. Five divisions – North and South STR (Wildlife) besides Baripada, Rairangpur, and Karanjia (territorial). As per the reports, the Deputy Director of STR, Jagyandatta Pati said that village-level awareness meetings are being held. The locals and tribal are being informed to avert any kind of steps that could lead to forest fires.

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