What To Know About the Rising Himalayan Wildfires


| LAST UPDATE 02/22/2022

By Stanley Wickens
himalayan wildfire climate change
Hindustan Times / Contributor via Getty Images

Climate change has been a major factor behind wildfires around the world. However, changes made to Himalayan tree species have significantly exacerbated forest conditions. Now, steps are being taken to help save the region.

Wildfires have been around in the Himalayas for a long time. The dangerous season begins in late fall and usually continues through spring, just before the start of the monsoon rains. With the exception of the 2021-2022 winter season, which saw brought heavy snowfall, persisting fires throughout these months have been intensifying and causing more damage each year. In 2020-2021 alone, more than 1,000 fires burned in Uttarakhand, which shares borders with Nepal and China. And one thing that's been creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to flourish has been the thick bed of highly-flammable pine needles that covers the forest grounds. One tree species that could help save these forests is the oak tree, which is known to be essential to the health of these forests. Oak trees "attract rain and modulate surface water flow in streams and local weather patterns," according to Ghazala Shahabuddin, co-author of a study that discovered the spread of pine trees and the decline of oaks.

himalayan wildfires pine trees
Anoop Negi / Contributor via Getty Images
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Himalayan forests, once home to thousands of oak trees, were heavily logged by the British - starting as early as the second half of the 19th century, for manufacturing purposes. Wood from these trees was used to build ammunition boxes, rifle parts, and aircraft for the two world wars, as well as one of the world’s largest national railroad networks. As the demand for timber rose, British settlers began to plant pine trees, which grow much faster than oaks. This species was planted for its commercial benefits, but eventually caused an ecological imbalance in the region. Although pine trees themselves are fire-resistant, their needles quickly create an inflammable environment as they drop to the forest floor.

Fortunately, as a result of the dangerous rise in the severity of Himalayan wildfires, attempts are being made to revive the oak species in the region. The VNV Advisory, an organization that focuses on helping communities affected by climate change, has launched a 30-year-long carbon offset project, which will 5,000 acres of oak trees across 30 villages. With their help, along the efforts of hundreds of other organizations around the globe, we're hoping for a better future for the critically affected region...

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below