Jammu and Kashmir is a forest rich state, having almost about 20% of its geographical area covered by forests of different types. These forests are found in different hill slopes, making vital watersheds which help in maintaining the fragile environs of the state. All around the world people are benefitted by forests as they are considered to provide ample lot of benefits. People living in the state also do enjoy whole lot of benefits like these provide wood along with different wood products, different flora and fauna which are unique, which serve as pastures for local as well nomadic life. But, most importantly, these forests provide shelter for different wild animals found in the state.
The world is witnessing tremendous surge in forest fires even in Siberian regions due to the possible impacts of climate change coupled with enhanced anthropogenic pressures. The most important causes of these fires have been found to be of manmade nature, either due to negligence or intentional. And, according to reports, it has been found that forest fires are burning more areas around the world. Jammu and Kashmir being no exception to it has also got engulfed in this disastrous problem thus posing a critical threat to both forests as well as to the people.
Over the last three years or so the forests of J&K are witnessing unprecedented surge in forest fires thus presenting a critical threat to the sustainability of these forests. The climate of the state is also seen variation as winters are becoming drier than usual which creates a favourable situation for forest fires. Last year, more than 600 incidents of forest fires were reported from different forest belts of the state. Majority of these incidents were found to be caused by the people directly or indirectly. The previous forest fires created havoc all around the state, ; every district reported forest fires and even the so called high security zone in Srinagar the “Zabarwan Hills” was up in smoke. And, this year also reports of forest fires are coming like the recent ones in Budgam, Ganderbal districts. The forests are up in smoke and we are losing our biodiversity.
The time is running out and we cannot remain silent spectators. We need to act on this problem; otherwise, future generations will be deprived of these important resources. The strategy that has been followed so far has been making the emphasis on fire suppression which is not the correct approach. We need to change this approach so that the concerned departments and people living in around forest areas will take forest protection seriously. The departments associated with the forests need to introduce and develop integrated forest management policy where common people will also be involved. The state government should develop a holistic approach to confront this problem. And the dissemination of information should be increased where more emphasis should be given on considering forests as a source of bio-economy along with recognizing the values of forests. By following this approach, future generations will not be deprived of these vital resources and most importantly the environment of the state will be safeguarded.
—The Author is Researcher at Environmental Sciences Department, University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: [email protected]