Q: I often see forest fires in wildlife sanctuaries and National parks during the dry season. How damaging are these?

Asked by Ananth Shankar, Bangalore

Answer from Dr. K. Ullas Karanth: Fire in a large, natural landscape has a lot of complex effects, some of which are definitely positive. But the annual fires that happen in our tiny protected areas are very different. In India most wild landscapes are not large enough to mediate the long-term impacts of fires. Our protected areas form less than 4% of our land area and they are being repeatedly subjected to fires caused by humans. These are not lightning induced natural fires as in the case of North American forests, but mostly man-made fires caused by graziers, minor forest product collectors, hunters or other careless people. These repeated fires mostly have a severe and negative effect on wildlife. What they do, is gradually remove the kinds of trees or understorey plants that are not able to withstand repeated fires, and replace them with hard, thick barked, often inedible plants.

Secondly, fire has a tremendous impact on ground nesting birds, reptiles or even young ones of larger animals like deer and tiger. So, the effect of fire is largely a negative one and we need to treat it as such. However, you cannot generalize too much, since we need location specific research to understand the effects of forest fires and for that matter a lot of other things…(read the full interview with Dr. K. Ullas Karanth)

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