The dzongkhag has already recorded 14 forest fire cases this year

With over 30,124 acres of forest cover lost to fire in the last five years, Trashigang dzongkhag is one of the most forest fire-prone areas in the country today.

Given the frequency of forest fires in the dzongkhag, residents say that it has become more of a visual spectacle for people in the region than an issue of concern.

“Forest fires happen almost everyday. There is nothing much we can do,” a resident who didn’t want to be named said. “There is no one to take the blame and authorities can never find out who was involved in it. We have never heard of a person being caught for causing forest fires.”

The largest area destroyed in a forest fire was in Bartsham in 2014 where it razed 5,449 acres of Chirpine and broad-leaved forest. The year saw 20 forest fires where around 16,997 acres of Chirpine and broad-leaved forest were lost.

Chief forestry officer Dendup Tshering said the frequency of forest fires in the dzongkhag could be attributed to its geographical location.

He said fire prone areas like Bartsam, Yangnyer, Bidung, Chaskhar in Mongar (shares border with Trashigang), Udzorong and Kanglung makes a ring that lies in a perfect leeward side and remains dry most of the time.

“During summer, when there is heavy rain outside these places, these areas remain mostly dry,” he said. “Also because it is Chirpine forest, which generally signifies dryness, forest fires are prominent here.”

Of the 54 forest fire cases recorded by the department in the dzongkhag in the last five years, causes were identified for only 11. Those fire incidents were caused due to road activities, burning of debris, lightening and transmission lines.

While a majority of the forest fire causes still remain unknown, Dendup Tshering said that most of the unknown fires are assumed to be started intentionally by people.

He said that since Chirpine forests have lemongrass undergrowth, people intentionally start a fire to burn lemongrass for increase oil production. It is believed that once the lemongrass is burnt, oil production increases the following year.

“It could also occur when settlements close to the forests start a fire to ward off wild animals like wild boars,” Dendup Tshering said. “Apart from these two, we don’t see any other reasons for people to start a forest fire.”

Baypam Genkhar tshogpa, Sonam Tenzin however said people from his chiwog have denied their involvement in any of the forest fire mishap in recent years. On February 4 this year, a major forest fire destroyed 1,200 acres of Chirpine forest in Baypam.

With the growing number of forest fire incidents, the department of forest and park services has conducted a series of awareness campaigns including door-to-door advocacy in six gewogs.

“We have done everything possible,” Dendup Tshering said. “But I’ve not seen any permanent solution so far.” Despite all the precautionary measures and trainings along with awareness campaigns, he said, forest fires continue to threaten both flora and fauna in the region.

However, he said that in order to minimise the extent of damages, he suggested burning the forest annually under prescribed burning, which will be controlled. “The damages will be less. Even seedlings will not be affected.”

Dendup Tshering said the vegetation of Chirpine forests, which are dry with lemongrass as undergrowth is an indication of forest fires. “Once the debris gets accumulated over the years, the chances of a bigger forest fire are evident. Areas where there has not been a forest fire for three to four years has a higher potential to cause larger damages.”

The 2014 forest fire in Bidung Barsam destroyed some16 houses and killed several cattle. The fire destroyed 10,444 acres of Chirpine forest. “To reduce collateral damages, we should practise prescribed burning,” he said.

Meanwhile, 14 forest fire cases have been reported to the department this year, which Dendup Tshering said is one of the highest cases reported so far in the dzongkhag.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang