Enhancing community preparedness in forest fire management in Nepal

01 Jul 2015

Community members from Pragati, Jamuna, and Jana Pragati community forests in the Kayar Khola watershed of Nepal can now successfully manage forest fires with the help of a strategic forest fire management plan developed by the Institute of Forestry at Tribhuvan University. The plan – based on GIS risk modeling in the context of micro level biophysical and human activities – ensures sustainable, long-term forest fire management in line with existing infrastructure, policy, and resource generation. The plan was developed with support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) under the framework of the SERVIR-Himalaya Small Grants Programme.

Members of three communities receive hands-on training on combating forest fire

Forest fires are a major challenge in Nepal, where large patches of forest are lost each year as a result of fire incidents. In recent years, the number of forest fire incidents has risen, further contributing to the destruction and degradation of already stressed forest areas. Past records show that not only have massive forest patches been lost, but army personnel and community members have lost their lives combating forest fires, which further underlines the need for urgent action to preserve forest resources and reduce the extent of losses.

Community forestry – a model of local forest management – has proven to be effective in Nepal. About one-third of Nepal’s forests are currently managed by more than 18,000 community forestry user groups and involving about 40% of the total population.

The project’s study area

Findings from multi-stakeholder analysis, consultation meetings with concerned government and non-governmental institutions, and focus group discussions with forest fire management officials, practising community forestry across the country revealed that there is still much left to be done to improving forest fire management through the community-based approach. A low level of awareness and the expectation of short-term benefits – for example when undertaking activities such as bee hunting, poaching, grass and mushroom sprouting, shifting cultivation – came out as major factors driving the increase in fire incidence in Nepal. To combat this trend and to reduce the extent of damage, capacity building and public awareness campaigns were carried out. A public awareness campaign – the first of its kind on community-based forest fire management training – included activities such as street rallies and higher secondary school level essay and speech competitions.

The project also organized exchange visits for local resource persons to places where local communities have been successfully managing forest fires. Khilachan Puri, chair of the Jamuna Community Forest, was part of a knowledge exchange trip to Makwanpur and Nawolparasi districts. “Before this visit, I was not aware that some of the best practices can be found in community forests in our neighbouring districts. This visit has motivated me to explore and apply good practices in our own community forest”, he said.

Community members participate in a street rally to promote the protection of forests

By involving community members in resource surveys, mapping, and the plan preparation process, the project has successfully raised ownership among community members about protecting forests from fire hazards. It has also motivated them to address the problem through more effective planning and programme implementation. The project also provided firefighting training and support for appropriate equipment; and conducted a school and community awareness campaign.

Bharat Panuhur, acting head of the District Forest Office in Chitwan said, “I am happy that the Institute of Forestry and SERVIR-Himalaya research teams have clearly demonstrated the need for researchers and local people to work in partnership to sensitize a large mass of people with such kind of innovative activities.”

Laxmi Karkee, chair of local research group and treasurer of the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN-Chitwan) said, “The training has given us the tools and knowledge needed to save our forests from fire. I will lobby to initiate such training in all vulnerable community forests in Chitwan District”.

The site-specific management plans, backed up by detailed community resource assessments prepared in consultation with stakeholders, will be an invaluable dossier to support the implementation of prepared plans and programmes in a systematic and structured way.

The plans and programmes can be replicated in other community forests across the country with similar biophysical and social settings. Members of community forest user groups who benefited from this project have shown a commitment to continue implementing the innovative activities suggested by the prepared plan.

All of the project’s activities have been documented, from which training material will be produced and shared with FECOFUN, educational institutions, and concerned stakeholders across the country to extend the project’s impact.