Fires in tiger reserve keep officials on toes
Tuesday 19th April 2011

PATNA: All through the year, environment and forest department officials, both at the state headquarters and in various forest ranges of the department, remain alert to douse forest fire and keep at bay those who indulge in illegal felling of trees. However, come summer, they go on high alert to protect the Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR) in West Champaran district from forest fires that is most often man-made.

As it is, during summer, those who inhabit villages in the deep forests of the VTR go on a spree to burn dry stubs and clumps of grass in their bid to prepare the forest land for new grass, which naturally emerges and begins to grow with the onset of hotweather rain, or even monsoon rains. Monsoon, normally, hits the state in the second week of June, but late-April to May-end is also the period of pre-monsoon rains.

Now, one such instance of burning of dry grass in Naurangia-done area of the VTR by villagers, specially herdsmen, on Sunday pushed a panic button at the environment and forest department headquarters on Monday. By afternoon, on Monday, the information elicited from the field said that yet another instance of burning of dry clumps of grass had occurred in the morning at the Harnatand village within the confines of the VTR.

"The fire reported from Naurangia-done area was not of high magnitude. It occurred on Sunday. The tigertrekkers in the forest area immediately intervened and doused the flames with support from the locals," said state's chief warden of forests, wildlife and sanctuaries Mithilesh Kumar, adding: "The locals and tiger-trekkers also controlled the fire reported from Harnatand village."

Incidentally, the government has already decided to upgrade the VTR as a tourist spot in the state. After Betla National Park in Jharkhand, the VTR is the only sanctuary for tiger and wildlife on the west of Sundarbans in West Bengal. The total area of the VTR is 880 square km, and also accounts for rich forests consisting of cane, sal, sagwan, khaira, seesam, semul and other trees and plants.

Early this year, deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, while reviewing the activities of the environment and forest department had announced that the VTR would be upgraded to attract tourists. He had also directed the officials of the department to prepare a blueprint for the development of the VTR into a tourist spot.

Last week, too, there were reports about fire in the VTR in the same Naurangia-done and other areas. "We have cross-checked the information. No such incident took place. Except on Sunday and in the morning today (Monday), no instances of fire have been reported," Kumar said, adding: "But we have issued the instruction to the officials and tiger-trekkers to remain alert.