Forest Fires in 2020 Will Again Become One of the Main Threats to Wildlife
The total area of forest fires in Russia for the first four months of 2020 exceeded the mark of 4 million hectares. In mid-April, this indicator reached its highest values for this period for the entire time of observations. Fire statistics are disappointing as since the beginning of the year, the indicators were about 2.5 times higher than the average values. Since nature does not self-isolate and requires constant supervision, all forest services, inspectors and rescuers are on high alert.
"There are no fewer fires, and the fire situation may become even more complicated by the summer as the year promises to be hot and dry, and there are far fewer forest inspectors in the country than necessary to control the vast Russian forests. Inspectors who can earn less than 15,000 rubles for their duties, work hard and risk their lives. Often not only the forest and thousands of animals die in the fire, but also rescuers. There are not enough people and equipment to fight fires, and current funding for firefighting is not enough. It needs to be increased at least twice, and control over the proper use of targeted funds is required," says Konstantin Kobyakov, HCVF project coordinator of WWF-Russia Forest program.
In addition to the threat to the population and direct economic losses, forest fires cause huge damage to biodiversity and habitats of valuable and rare species of animals and plants, many of which are concentrated in intact forests. According to WWF-Russia’s study, human-caused fires account for 60% of the total area of intact forests loss.
In Russia, forest fires cover an average of 10 million hectares annually, and in 2019 it was 16.5 million hectares. Experts believe that the number and area of forest fires in Russia will grow, as long periods of heat and drought will occur more often. Inadequate funding for fire-prevention work and inefficient use of already allocated funds will not allow changing the situation. According to WWF-Russia, in order to effectively fight forest fires, it is necessary not only to increase funding, but also to introduce a complete ban on any burning of dry grass, including prescribed burning, as well as fire clearing of logging residues.
"The main cause of forest fires is careless handling of fire. It's not just about carelessness such as a discarded cigarette butt or an unlit fire. Fire from grass fires or burning felling residues on logging sites often spreads to the forest. Currently permitted "prescribed grass burning" in practice is usually no different from ordinary arson. They are the main cause of a significant part of forest fires. Fire spreads very quickly: it instantly moves to the forest, destroys wildlife and becomes a threat to human life. Recently, a forest inspector tragically died while extinguishing a fire in the area of the "Psla Floodplain" section of the Central Chernozem reserve, and such cases are not rare," says Konstantin Kobyakov.
WWF-Russia supports the complete exclusion of fire from the practice of nature management and the transition to alternative technologies, and also considers it necessary to fight all forest fires regardless of their origin and location of ignition. According to ecologists, the problem of forest fires in Russia requires a systematic solution and simultaneous adoption of appropriate measures at the federal and regional levels, as well as joint actions of authorities, business, environmental organizations and civil society.
Learn more about WWF-Russia's proposed forest fires control and prevention measures: https://wwf.ru/en/about/positions/lesnye-pozhary/