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Forest fire management in India: integrating ecological and cultural contexts and consequences

concluded 10/2009


The research will identify the social and ecological drivers behind forest fires in India aiming at understanding the link between fire regimes and the ecosystem services provided by its formation of different forest types. As much as 50% of India’s forest lands are susceptible to fire annually according to government estimates. It is widely held that most fires are of anthropogenic origin, though the causes of fire have not been precisely documented. The fact that people continue to set fires, despite the strict policy of fire suppression, points to benefits or perceived benefits people derive from fires. The actual application of fire is uncontrolled. An improved fire management that takes the benefits derivate from it in consideration requires knowledge as well as a shared consensus about needs and purposes of forest fire regimes in meeting people’s livelihood needs, and its influence on ecosystem processes, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and the supply of other ecosystem services. Such fire management would also require knowledge about the locally important motivations for, as well as the cultural background of, forest fires. This project is a pilot study to document fire occurrence in three sites, each in a different eco-regions in India (Western Himalayas, Western Ghats and the plains of central India). There we examine the correlation of fire occurrence with different forest types, and assess the effects of fires of varying frequency on forest structure and functioning on the basis of satellite imagery and other available data. In addition we will, concomitantly, document people’s perceptions about the role of fire in their livelihoods, and the socio-cultural and economic drivers of fire occurrence with the help of the “Multidisciplinary Landscape Assessment” (MLA) developed by CIFOR.

The research will help to identify the reasons for forest fires, their link to existing forest formations, and their role in the supply of ecosystem services. This will not only help us to extend the approach to other areas, but also to discuss the findings with decision makers, forest managers, and local communities aiming to implement these findings in forest and landscape management.

Coordinator: Joachim Schmerbeck und Ankila Hiremath
Sponsor: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Duration: 02/2008 – 09/2009
Cooperation: CIFOR Bogor, Indonesia; ATREE, New Delhi, India
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