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Research Report


Joachim Schmerbeck
Ankila J. Hiremath
C. Ravichandran
Copyright Date: Feb. 19, 2007
Pages: 39

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. i-i)
  2. (pp. ii-ii)
  3. (pp. 1-1)

    India has a policy of fire suppression which dates back to the first formal articulation of forest policy in 1927. Yet even today, almost a century later, fire continues to be an annual phenomenon in almost all Indian forests. This obvious contradiction between fire policy and fire reality raises a number of questions regarding the drivers of fire, the role that fire plays in ecological processes, the extent of fires in Indian forests, and the existing fire policy. For instance,

    Are occurrences of fire natural or anthropogenic?

    Are fires beneficial or detrimental in their effect on ecosystems and on human...

  4. (pp. 2-5)
    Joachim Schmerbeck and Ankila J. Hiremath

    Forest fires are a driving factor in shaping forest vegetation and the landscape in many parts of India. Even so, very little is known about the extent of these fires, the causes of ignition, and the role fires play in local forest management practices and the supply of ecosystem services. We describe this situation briefly with the aid of a case study. We also discuss the theoretical context of forest fires and highlight the need for a research initiative on wildland fires in India.

    Scientist and practitioners dealing with forests in India widely agree that most of terrestrial India was...

  5. (pp. 6-10)
    P. Daniel Kraus and Johann G. Goldammer

    A wide variety of ecosystems in the tropics are affected by land-use activities and vegetation conversion practices that either involve the direct use of fire or increase the probability of uncontrolled fires. Some of these ecosystems are extremely sensitive to fire, but without subsequent ignitions that lead to extensive wildfires, they can recover. As an overall trend, increased ignitions result in dramatic changes in vegetation structure and fuel characteristics: fire creates a positive feedback loop that leads to increasing flammability and drier conditions. The excessive use of fire in association with demographic development and land-use changes throughout the tropics may...

  6. (pp. 11-14)
    Mahesh Sankaran

    The Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (hereafter, KMTR), situated at the southern end of the Western Ghats, a global biodiversity ‘hot-spot,’ is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species including several endangered species such as tigers (Panthera tigris), leopards (Panthera pardus), elephants (Elephas maximus), gaur (Bos gaurus), lion-tailed macaques (Macaca silenus) and Nilgiri tahr (Hermitragus hylocrius). In addition, it is recognized as a center of high plant diversity in India and also represents the southernmost range of the tiger, making it an area of high conservation priority.

    In recent years, the reserve has witnessed changes in its plant and...

  7. (pp. 15-17)
    Ankila J. Hiremath and Joachim Schmerbeck

    Fire, whether natural or anthropogenic, is a widespread and recurring phenomenon in Indian forests. The Forest Survey of India estimates that as much as half the country’s forest area may be affected by fire annually. Fires in Indian forests are today almost entirely attributed to burning by people. In India, people burn forests for a variety of reasons: to encourage a fresh flush of fodder for grazing livestock, to facilitate the collection of fuelwood and certain non-timber products, to clear the forest understory to improve access, and because of religious beliefs or cultural practices. Fires are also used as a...

  8. (pp. 18-20)
    Klaus Seeland

    Understanding, perception, and interpretation in empirical trans-cultural research is predominantly a question of comparing theories of different configurations of nature and culture combinations. A methodology that is both appropriate and able to shed light on these groupings is the challenge for investigation and decision-making in the area of managing environments of importance to societies (beyond the local communities which depend on these areas). Socio-cultural driving factors of anthropogenic fires, for instance, vary according to land use typology, composition of user groups, and their status in a society at a given historical period of time. They usually accompany land use management...

  9. (pp. 21-23)
    Tim Waring

    As a PhD Candidate in Human Ecology at the University of California, Davis, I study the co-evolution of biophysical and socio-cultural systems. Since human culture is an evolving phenomenon, socio-ecological systems should be optimized and diverse across space and time. In order to study the nature of human cultural adaptations to the environment, I have designed a project in southern India that investigates the human deployment of fire in landscape management across both social and ecological gradients. The Palni Hills of Tamil Nadu provide a natural experiment that can be used to see how human landscape alteration responds to both...

  10. (pp. 24-25)
    Durgadas Mukhopadhyay

    Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, is more than just one of Hinduism’s favored icons. He is a near-perfect symbol of Indian fire history. His drum represents the rhythm of life; the torch, death; the wheel of flame, the mandala of birth, death, and rebirth that fire epitomizes and makes possible. In this confrontation of opposites, the dance replaces the dialectic; Shiva holds, not reconciles both drum and torch. Considered ecologically, the Nataraja thus expresses in graphic language the great polarity of India, the annual alternation of wet and dry seasons by which the monsoon, with faint transition, imposes its opposing...

  11. (pp. 26-27)
    G.C.S. Negi

    In the Central Himalayan region, every year forest fires leave a devastating impact on the landscape, affecting flora, fauna, human livelihoods, and the local climate. Although fire may be both of natural and anthropogenic origin, the limited studies on this subject suggest that in this region fire is entirely of anthropogenic origin. In this region fire is used as a tool to meet several objectives, both by the local inhabitants and the Forest Department. On the one hand, the local people harvest good growth of fodder grasses after fire, and on the other the Forest Department uses fire as a...

  12. (pp. 28-30)
    Imam Basuki and Douglas Sheil

    Multidisciplinary landscape assessment (MLA) is an interdisciplinary set of methods and tools that was developed in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, in 1999 by Douglas Sheil and his team as a collaborative effort among different partners from several disciplines (the Indonesian government, universities, NGOs). Multidisciplinary landscape assessment is able to produce clear and quantified information about the landscape and perceptions of the local people. We believe that people’s perceptions make landscape information more meaningful for decision makers. We present the MLA approach, its tools, examples, lessons learned from several tests and adaptations, as well as preliminary suggestions on its adaptation for fire...

  13. (pp. 31-32)
    Robert John Chandran

    Conversion of tropical forest landscapes to agricultural and industrial landscapes is a major cause for the decline of forest cover and biodiversity worldwide. In addition, forest landscapes continue to degrade because of excessive exploitation of natural resources by humans and the agents of disturbance they leave in their wake. Nevertheless, large tracts of tropical forest have been managed for long periods of time, either by the state or by communities of forest-dependent people, to provide natural resources. Many such management practices have involved the use of fire as a tool to maintain forest structure, composition, and productivity of certain components...

  14. (pp. 33-35)

    The final day of the workshop was spent discussing ways in which the process begun in the workshop could be carried forward. The participants agreed that wildland fires in India are an important issue in the context of sustainable management of forests, conservation of biodiversity, and the maintenance of ecosystem services that society derives from forests. The group had a structured, constructive, and creative discussion on the broad contours of a potential research initiative in this field: the aims, the methodologies that would have to be applied, and the steps for its implementation. There was consensus that the overall aims...

  15. (pp. 36-36)