Senate body concerned about repeated forest fires in KP, Murree

ISLAMABAD:Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change Tuesday expressed its concerns over repeated forest fire incidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Murree and Margalla Hills National Park in the federal capital.

The senate standing committee with Senator Sitara Ayaz in chair inquired the forest department officials of the relevant domains about the losses due to the fire incidents, mitigation measures and reasons behind such frequent hazardous encounters this year.

Senator Sitara Ayaz said that there were forest fire for three days in Murree, Margalla Hills and the same situation prevailed in many forests of KP province which had burnt century’s old trees in the vicinity.

Chief Conservator Forest, KP Forest Department Azhar Ali Khan briefed the committee that the forest department was responsible for putting out fires erupting only on the state land. However, the communal or private land owners as per the law were responsible to deal with the fires occurring on their lands, he added.

“The forest fires occurred this year have mainly affected 2,000 hectares (ha) of the total 91,000 hectares (ha) enclosures set up under Billion Tree Afforestation Project (BTAP). The BTAP plantation in these enclosures sprawls over 97,000 ha area where only 800ha plantation has been damaged by the recent forest fires which is negligible as compared to the existing size of the forests raised under BTAP,” Azhar Ali Khan informed the Committee.

The Chief Conservator Forest KP further elaborated that most of the fires erupted in the Chir Forests of KP as the Chir Pine needles dropped on the ground were highly inflammable. “It catches fire in hot summer which helps to remove impalatable species grown at the bottom level and encourages revival of Chir plants for three years,” he added.

He regretted that most of the private land owners were setting the forest ablaze to get rid of the impalatable species which was jeopardizing the state’s forests trees as well. “Under the forest laws, the local community is bound to assist the forest department while extinguishing the fire whereas the situation is other way around as they merely behave as spectators during the incident. Forest Department’s seven officers got martyred in 2018 while partaking in fire fighting operations and two of its workers also martyred this year,” he said.

Mostly, tourists visiting the scenic places in KP were making barbeque and held cooking activities, also some of them threw cigarette butts in the forests which had erupted forest fires. Moreover, some of the rivals or miscreants punished by the Forest Department on violation were putting the forests at fires,” he underscored.

Rawalpindi Forest Division representative, Ather Kharal informed the Committee that Murree Forest Division comprised of 46000 acres (state owned) and 168000 acres was private or Guzara Forests. “This year Rawalpindi has observed 46C one of the highest temperatures noted in summer and the monsoon season which used to start by the end of June has prevailed after July 10 this year. These weather scenarios have caused long dry and hot pattern hovering in the region which resulted in frequent forest fires in the Murree Forest Division,” he added.

The forest officials unanimously regretted the poor conduct and indifference of local communities during forest fires. However, they appreciated the Rescue 1122 department for its prompt response on different fire instances whereas they highlighted the constraints of the rescue teams due rugged topography and lack of resources.

The senate committee recommended that the Forest Departments should have close coordination with provincial disaster management authorities to have better resource mobilization to extinguish forest fires.

Secretary Ministry of Climate Change proposed to devise a regulatory framework for forest fires conducted at the private level.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed presented the sub-committee report on the issues of the federal capital under his chairmanship. The sub-committee under his leadership and committee members Senator Samina Saeed and Senator Muhammad Ali Khan Saif conducted field visits to Nullahs (watercourses), Sangjani Landfill site and other places.

The report was adopted by the committee and also forwarded to Chairman Capital Development Authority (CDA) for its compliance.