Forest fires a major threat to Bhutan’s biodiversity
Despite stern legislation and public awareness programmes in place to curb forest fires, still the problem persists as it tops the list of threats to the country’s forest coverage. Forest fires are a major environmental problem in Bhutan.
There were 36 incidences of forest fires in 2010 alone which burned up more than 9162.81 acres of natural forests in the country.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) said the main causes of the fires are burning of agricultural debris by farmers who do not follow the proper procedures and guidelines.
Tandin Dorji from the forest fires management section of MoAF said farmers do not have the proper equipment to battle forest fires. “They do not monitor the debris burning and leave as it is, unattended and they do not suppress the fire at the end properly and while there is wind blowing the fire is carried away to the nearby places causing forest fires,” he explained.
The second most common cause of forest fire is due to children playing with fire near the forest areas. The short circuiting of electric wires is also another cause of forest fires in Bhutan.
Explaining about short circuits, Tandin Dorji said, “When an electric pole is being step up, the electrician is supposed to clear the line corridor up to 6 meters or else till 9 meters if possible. We had an understanding with the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) that they would clear the line corridor to avoid forest fires, but in many cases it is not happening.”
Mass awareness campaigns have been conducted on how to safely burn the agricultural debris before the onset of the fire season.
Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang, Lhuentse, Trashigang, and Bumthang are the districts in the country which are prone to forest fires.
The forest fire management strategy developed by the department of forests and park services has incorporated both the beneficial as well as the harmful effects of forest fires to the ecosystem, and the use of fire as an important land management tool and recommended community based management of fire by involving the local communities, volunteers, and religious leaders.
It is hoped that this innovative strategy of incorporating all possible tactical options would be useful in managing forest fires in the country so that the valuable forests, lives and properties of the people, important ecosystems are protected as well as the communities can still have the opportunity to use fire for their land management activities in the rural areas.
With the implementation of the strategies, the department would be able to reduce the number of forest fires in the country and save many acres of valuable forests in future.
Between 2010 and 2011, a total of 49 incidences were recorded with 10,139 acres of forest area consumed by fire.
Forest fire recorded in 2001 -2009
Year No. of Incidence Area burned
2001 64 14644.16
2002 46 5425.99
2003 40 2711.21
2004 67 7965.51
2005 37 19580.683
2006 47 56280.747
2007 45 9617.17
2008 70 4501.33
2009 49 9162.81