The continuing rain in Bandipur and other parts of Chamarajanagar district has given a breather to the Forest Department as the increase in moisture content will delay the onset of fire season some time in February 2024.
Bandipur has been receiving moderate to heavy rain for the past few days as a result of which the waterholes have filled up, and will provide reprieve for animals for a longer duration. There were concerns that severe drought-like conditions in the forest would create a crisis for wildlife due to failure of southwest monsoon. Though last week’s rain cannot entirely offset the paucity of the monsoon, it is a welcome relief, according to officials.
Ramesh Kumar, Director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve said the ground situation certainly brightened up to an extent as clearing vegetation through controlled burning can be put off by a few more days. Removal of weeds and vegetation along demarcated lines, through controlled burning during the onset of winter, is part of fire-control strategy adopted by the Forest Department across India.
“This vegetation-free area prevents fire from spreading from one part of the forest to another in case of a conflagration during summer. The controlled burning to clear vegetation normally commences in November or early December, but this year it can be put off by a few days,” Mr. Ramesh Kumar explained.
While the reprieve is marginal, it is nevertheless welcome as it will help reduce the number of days during which the forest becomes susceptible to fire.
While the cumulative rainfall in south interior Karnataka during this year’s southwest monsoon from June through October was 26% below normal, there has been excess rain between November 1 and 13.
Chamarajanagar received 74 mm of rains during the period, which is 66% above normal, Mysuru has received 103 mm of rain, which is 201% above normal, and Bandipur is spread across these two districts.
Every spell of unseasonal rain in Bandipur brings cheer to the authorities, as the national park is prone to forest fires during summer. It has a history of major fires that have swept through vast swathe of forests. The last such fire was in February 2019 when nearly 15,000 acres of forest was affected due to dense undergrowth of vegetation and dry weeds, like lantana, which are highly inflammable.
Forest Department staff are also dependent on the cooperation of the local community to fight forest fires and expect their rural outreach programmes, like Bandipur Yuva Mitra, to pay dividends in the long run.
Bandipur Yuva Mitra is a nature education programme with the objective of sensitising school and college students, as well as teachers, living in villages bordering the national park on environmental issues, including the imperatives of preventing forest fires. It has covered over 5,000 students so far. Participants are also trained as eco-volunteers to handle crisis situation, which is expected to come in handy during the fire season.