Be it the forest fires in Odisha’s Similipal Tiger Reserve that have been raging for more than 10 days, or the glacial breach and floods in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district last month, there is an urgent need to address the climate crisis being exacerbated by human disregard for ecologically sensitive regions.
According to experts, the inferno currently sweeping through Similipal Tiger Reserve’s 21 ranges and eight forests, is a culmination of dry weather and intentional human interference. Nearly 90 per cent of forest fires, they say, are started by humans. This fire poses an extreme threat to not just Similipal's wildlife population including tigers, leopards, bears and elephants but also to thousands of vascular plants, various species of orchids and medicinal plants. It is also the only known habitat of the elusive melanistic, or black tigers. Similipal, included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO in 2009, is fighting today just to breathe.
While the government machinery swings into action to control the devastation, experts have been holding forth on how such tragedies can be prevented in the future. Bikrant Tiwary, CEO of Grow-Trees.com, says, “Similipal is one of the oldest tiger reserves in the country and its biodiversity is essential for the ecological health of the region. The fire will endanger its flora and fauna and is a frightening reminder that the annual occurrence of forest fires must be taken seriously.”
According to him, what is needed is not a knee-jerk reaction to the problem but a sustained enhancement of biodiversity and green cover through large-scale plantation drives. This, he says, will also reduce human-animal conflict, generate rural employment and naturally improve wildlife habitats. To address the loss of green cover which is directly connected to climate change, he has been part of a project that aims to plant over a million trees in the villages situated in the periphery of Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary and Similipal Tiger Reserve.
He says, “Even before the fires, our team had ideated a blueprint to plant trees on around 5000 acres across 5 blocks in Kolhan range of Jharkhand and 3 blocks in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. We are committed to doing this, because more trees represent expanded green cover, enhanced animal habitat and happier local communities. We have seen firsthand, the impact of urbanization on the Dalma-Similipal Corridor. The area, which was once lush green with widespread forests, is now deprived of not only the natural beauty but also the animals that lived within. This fire will make things even worse.”