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Climate Change: Will rising global temperature result in more forest fires?

Climate Change: In 2019 and early 2020, Australia witnessed one of the worst cases of wildfire, which claimed the lives of more than 1 billion animals and 33 humans. During the same time, about 4.7 million hectares of forest region were burnt down in the Arctic region, because of several wildfires. 

Will the growing temperature of the earth cause more such cases of wildfire, worse than the ones witnessed by mankind?

What causes wildfire?

Vinod Kumar Pandey, retired Logging Officer, Forest Development Corporation in Uttarakhand in northern India, while talking to Asian News Network said forest fires and wildfires are a natural phenomenon. He said forests have a complete ecosystem and in fact, the occasional fires, help the sustenance of this system, as germination of a specific category of seeds is only possible when they are roasted in the natural fire. It also prevents the growth of weeds which is harmful to other plants. 

According to Pandey, natural forests are capable of controlling the fire itself and they have sustained it for centuries. The problem according to him arises when wildfire becomes frequent and uncontrollable. 

How forests naturally control fire

In a natural forest ecosystem, according to Vinod Kumar Pandey, there are capabilities to control fire and avoid fire incidents altogether. Dried leaves and tree bark, falling on the forest ground, act like a natural moisture trap, after rainfall. They maintain moisture levels and thus the dried needles and leaves do not catch fire easily. Even in cases of wildfire, it is internally controlled because of these moisture traps across the forest cover. 

How will increased temperature worsen the situation

According to Pandey, who spent more than 34 years in the state forest corporation, incidents of wildfire were reported after 5-6 years, a couple of decades ago. The frequency of such incidents kept increasing with the passage of time and now it has become an annual event. This is linked to the increase in global temperature and will worsen in future. However, human activities and the way forests are exploited in the name of development, also contribute to forest fires.

How human activities act as a two-edged sword

There is more than one angle to this problem according to Vinod Kumar Pandey, and human activities are adding to the fuel. He says, first it is very important to understand that forest doesn’t only refer to planting trees, and there are more varieties of the flora that collectively contribute towards a healthy forest. For a layman, planting more trees means increased forest cover, however, he says forest grass, creepers, mushrooms and a variety of plants contribute to forming a healthy forest.

Planting only trees and even compensatory aforestation activities, result in a green cover, which is not self-sustaining. Such plantations lack the natural moisture traps that help avoid incidents of fires. 

Making the forests self-sustainable and not robbing them of their natural existence, will not only make the plant greener but make the green cover, self-sustainable. It would also go a long way in maintaining the global temperature and preventing climate change to some extent. 

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