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Stop Forest Fires awarness campaign

‘Stop forest fires’ awareness campaign

‘Stop forest fires’ awareness campaign

School workshops
% decrease of forest fires
Sqkm of forest saved from fire

Idea behind the Awareness campaign

Due to heavy forest fires every season in the Tirthan Valley, where the organization of Heco has been operating since 2013, there has been a significant decline in forest cover. The loss of forest cover and biodiversity in the Himalayas has led to numerous adverse impacts on climate change, the water supply for hundreds of millions of people, and the welfare of local communities.
The elderly people of the villages have also witnessed the gradual decline of forest cover due to the fires. They fondly remember their childhood when there were dense forests and rich biodiversity around them. Now, after all these years, the mountains have gone bald due to the increasing number of forest fires year after year.
Conservation has been the core value of Heco, and we have taken different routes to fulfil it. Therefore this time, the team decided to take action against the decay of Himalayan forests. While talking to the locals and understanding the social arrangement, we established that 99% of forest fires in the Tirthan Valley are intentional or man-made. It was a sigh of relief for us since these fires were not naturally occurring but man-made, and there was something that could be done to tackle them.

Since these wildfires are intentional and started by the locals, the question arises as to why somebody would burn their own home. The answers are many. To start with, one of the reasons is numerous superstitious beliefs, such as the notion that if they burn the forest, the smoke will reach God’s eye and make Him cry, which will bring rain. Another reason is that burning the forest will enhance the quality of the soil and ultimately the grass. Additionally, there are economic benefits, such as cutting the trees and burning the forest to cover the tracks of timber smuggling.

This campaign has undergone extensive research and analysis by the team at Heco to find the root cause of the forest fires, understand locals’ opinions about it, and determine how to tackle such issues. Based on previous interactions and fieldwork, we conducted interviews with villagers to better understand why forest fires are intentionally set and to plan intervention measures.

Therefore, considering the situation of this malpractice, we came up with the ‘Stop Forest Fires’ awareness campaign to conserve and preserve the Himalayas and their habitat. The main motive behind this campaign is to spread awareness among the local community regarding the consequences of forest fires, knowledge about Himalayan ecology, and ways to conserve and protect the Himalayas.

Relationships formed from these interviews enabled us to identify trustworthy representatives across the valley. In collaboration with the Forest Department and our local representatives, a quick-response system for real-time intervention and tracking of induced forest fires was started.

‘I am a Defender’ campaign (2018)

The campaign started in the 2018-19 season and was divided into three phases:

Phase 1 included understanding and addressing the causes of forest fires. After years of research, it was established that a vast majority of forest fires are intentional. The common reasons for these forest fires range from misguided beliefs to economic benefits. Through our research, we have determined that forest fires are a part of villagers’ practices to enhance their livelihood. Many also report that uneducated villagers believe the smoke from the fires triggers rain. Even if people are aware of the adverse impacts of forest fires, they may continue because of the short-term benefits they may gain.

Phase 2 involved launching an awareness campaign. Large road signs were placed at strategic locations in the Tirthan Valley, and hundreds of posters were displayed in the villages, local dhabas, and shops. The initiative was warmly welcomed by the locals. Often, there is high social acceptance towards burning of forests. People are reluctant to stop someone from making a fire because they don’t want to cause trouble or strain their social relationships. They feel they shouldn’t interfere if someone is burning grass in their own fields because it is private land and not their concern. However, this should not be the case. Our aim is to ensure that the negative feelings about burning forests outweigh social acceptance.

Phase 3 focused on raising awareness among children. It is very difficult to change the local mentality in this regard, especially in a caste- and male-dominated society. Only children might be open to adopting the necessary lifestyle changes for sustainable practices. Hence, we started the campaign “I am a Defender.” With the help of a designer, we developed a logo and printed T-shirts, badges, and other apparel with the logo and a message. These items were sold cheaply (at a loss) to the local people who proudly joined the movement and gradually became ambassadors of the Stop Forest Fires project.
Simultaneously, we organized presentations in schools. A few locals helped us in this matter. Poonam and Anju, employed by Himalayan Ecotourism, interacted with the children and educated them about the consequences of forest fires for them as locals. Mr. KD advised us about the local culture and helped us decide how to approach the community and kids. Mr. Maghar Singh, Range Officer Banjar, was also a great source of inspiration.
The children were given colorful pamphlets explaining the issue of forest fires in simple words with many illustrations. Posters were also designed and placed in the classrooms.

After a season of active awareness among the local community, the following season saw a significant decrease in forest fires in the Tirthan Valley for at least one and a half years, a result recognized by the forest department of the GHNP region.

The advent of the global pandemic halted all tourism-related activity, thus taking away the primary source of income for the villagers around GHNP. This forced us to find an alternate source of livelihood that is labor-intensive, as most of the cooperative members are less educated. We came up with the idea of planned reforestation, which addresses both issues: unemployment and environmental degradation.

The team initiated a Reforestation program with the help of GHNP Cooperative members associated with trekking work with Heco. The first plantation was carried out in the village of Pekhri, situated at 2,100 meters in Tirthan Valley in the ecozone of the Great Himalayan National Park during the 2020-21 season. The second plantation was carried out in the village of Nadhar, also situated in Tirthan Valley within the ecozone of the Great Himalayan National Park, during the 2021 season. The plantation sites were then protected by erecting fences around them to keep small trees safe from grazing animals and other disturbances.

The next plantation site chosen for the 2024 season’s plantation drive was Chipni village in Tung, located in the Tirthan Valley. However, the plans had to be changed due to the destruction of a previous plantation site by a forest fire. When the fire reached the top of the mountain, it burned everything, including the Nadhar plantation site near the village of Nadhar, where we planted more than 2,000 trees in 2021.

Instead of planting trees at our new site near Chipni village, we decided to focus on the prevention of forest fires and ecological restoration with the help of the local community. This change in course does not imply that we are giving up on the program completely but that we are creating a healthier environment for the trees to thrive.

Furthermore, the land in Chipni, where we were supposed to plant trees, will be used to experiment with a method of assisted ecological restoration with the local villagers. This effort will help us restore the burned forests at a later stage.

Stop forest fire awareness campaigns in the Himalayas.

School awareness drives
A Heco team member interacting with the School students.

Our first campaign
A resounding success in the Tirthan valley !

‘Stop forest fire’ awareness campaign (2024-25)

School awareness drives in the Himalayas.

First Session of the Season
Students attending a session In Palach panchayat

The change in the course of action reignited the flame of the ‘Stop Forest Fires’ awareness campaign again in the Tirthan Valley. This time, it is planned to be much more organized and impactful.
To start with, we had to reanalyze how to target the different hotspots of forest fires and how to efficiently raise awareness among the locals of that region. We have divided the Tirthan Valley into different sectors and allotted a local coordinator for each of these sectors. Each local coordinator have their team of volunteers who carry out several awareness drives in their respective sectors.
We started by placing posters around bus stands, stops, dhabas, shops, eateries, on the streets, and near the hotspot regions. While pasting these posters, there was great excitement and willingness among the locals towards this effort, and many of them were keen on getting these for their own shops. Then we decided to put some stickers inside taxis where both locals and tourists could be made aware.
The most significant step is the school awareness drives, which are envisioned to be the most impactful way to curb the increasing forest fires. We had our first session of the school awareness drive in a government school in Galwadhar village in Palach panchayat with the local coordinator Teja Rana and his team. The session included a presentation shown to the students, imparting knowledge about the consequences of forest fires and information about the Himalayan ecology. It was followed by showing an award-winning documentary about the forest fires and the destruction they cause. Later, informative posters were placed in the classroom, and the students were given pamphlets that included information about the environment. The session ended with the Heco team urging the students to take their own small steps towards protecting nature and their home.
The objective of the campaign is to run throughout the summer and after the monsoon, so that before the forest fire season returns, the children of the valley will have a mindset to fight against it and be defenders of the forests and their homes.
If you want to get more updates and information about our Stop forest fire awareness campaign, you can follow the facebook page below :

Click here to see our work so far.

Video links of our Work

Our new Ecological Restoration Strategy
Our plan for protecting the Himalayan forests from Seasonal forest fires.

Plantation drive in the Himalayas

Watch our previous Plantation drives with the Local community.

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