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Forest Fire Protection Project, Chiang Mai
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How you can help prevent!

WARF's newst project is up and running, in association with The Forest Fire Control Division. NOK Flying Club pilots and members are invited to participate in reporting outbreaks of forest fires in Chiangmai and Lamphun Provinces. This information should be passed to the Forest Fire Control Division (DNP) in Chiangmai - Hotline 1362 - who will take appropriate action.

Reporting forest fires please call Chiangmai DNP office 053-276100 Ext. 11 during office time or our hotline 1362 round the clock.

Forest fires should be reported by all members of the public to the DNP as soon as possible, giving location, time of observation and extent. Pilot's observing forest fires from the air should ideally give GPS coordinates and geographical location.

STATISTICS:
From the table below, the highest frequency of forest fires come from humans finding forest products but the largest burning area comes from hunting, most of the causes come from illegal human activities.

From the table below, the highest frequency of forest fires come from humans finding forest products but the largest burning area comes from hunting, most of the causes come from illegal human activities.

From the table below, the highest frequency of forest fires come from humans finding forest products but the largest burning area comes from hunting, most of the causes come from illegal human activities.

 

Causes
Frequency
Area @ (km 2)
 Burning the field
1834
49.86
 Finding forest product
3221
74.73
 Hunting
2251
78.29
 Feeding the animal
190
4.86
 Tourist
100
2.17
 Contradiction
692
20.77
 Wooden
355
8.11
 Accident, careless
97
1.68
 Lightening
2
0.01 
 Other
1019
25.39
Total
9758
265.87

Table 4: the causes of forest fire in the year 2000 (from January to April)

The Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand (WARF) www.warthai.org have initiated a Forest Fire Protection Project, working in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources, the aim is to seek cooperation from the general public, local villagers and private pilots in attempting to reduce this menace.

 

DETECTING AND REPORTING WILDFIRES
Early detection and reporting of wildfires is an important component of forest fire management system. The goal of the detection system is to report the fires early while they are still small and relatively easy to control. The fires reported by aircraft are often the lightning fires that occur in the remote areas of the province. These are the fires that must be reported quickly so that firefighters can be dispatched to them as soon as possible, while the fires are still relatively small. Fires are not new to the landscapes of Thailand. In general, wherever there are people, there are fires, as the two have been culturally linked for centuries. In rural areas, people have used fire as a land preparation tool, for promoting annual grasses for grazing livestock, to facilitate mushroom and bamboo cultivation, and to assist in hunting and land clearing. Such land management has generated benefits to some people and costs to others. Fire management in Thailand is a community issue that needs to be addressed by a community-based approach.

FIRE ENVIRONMENT, FIRE REGIMES AND THE ECOLOGICAL ROLE OF FIRE

In Thailand, 25 percent of the country is covered by forests, or 12.97 million hectares. The Deciduous forests comprise 53 percent of the total forested area, while evergreen forests make up 47 percent. Human-caused fires have long been a component of various forest ecosystems. They occur annually during the dry season from December to May with the peak period in February and March.

 

 

 


 

Background information

 

*Abstract*

Fires are not new to the landscapes of Thailand. In general, wherever there are people, there are fires, as the two have been culturally linked for centuries. In rural areas, people have used fire as a land preparation tool, for promoting annual grasses for grazing livestock, to facilitate mushroom and bamboo cultivation, and to assist in hunting and land clearing. Such land management has generated benefits to some people and costs to others.

Fire management in Thailand is a community issue that needs to be addressed by a community-based approach. This paper reviews some of the local knowledge, experiences and lessons learned from those working with community-based fire management in Thailand to synthesise the current knowledge base and summarise some key points.

*1. Introduction*

"In the old days during the dry season, community leaders would mobilise fire prevention activities by striking a gong three times a year; once in late January, once in late February and once in the middle of April.
This gong signalled to the community to take collective action to manage the fuels in areas in and around the community to protect itself from forest fires. Today, collective action rarely occurs due to weak community leadership and the government's insistence that it has the sole responsibility to manage forest fires." (/Senior villager of Ban Pabong, Moo 1, Mae Hong Son Province./)

People and fire have been culturally linked in Asia for centuries. Communities in Thailand have long been engaged in fire management. Fires in Thailand have many causes and impacts due to people's forest and land uses. They can spread from paddy fields to the forest, from the forest to the paddy fields, or from the paddy fields or forests into villages and vice versa.

Traditional knowledge of fire management is clearly manifested in Thailand. People have protected their communities from fire by digging fire lines around homes and temples. Backfires are also used to stop approaching fires. Villagers are aware of the potential fire damages and have controlled the spread of fire to minimise destruction of community assets.

In 1998, forest fires occurred across Thailand destroying thousands of hectares in Huay Kha Khaeng, Khao Yai, Dong Yai, Mae Wong, Phu Kradeung, Phu Rua and Phru To Daeng. These fires, coupled with the haze from other fires in the region, affected many people. The latest fire episode has caused major concerns at every level of society and changed people's view of rural people in Thailand from being victims of circumstances to being the cause of these fires.

The latest El Niño episode has triggered the preparation of many governmental and inter-governmental plans for regional programmes to prevent and control forest fires and haze in South East Asia. In Thailand, the results of these actions are confusing and often misinterpreted. The government has decided that farmers must inform the local authorities before burning crop residues in their paddy fields. Cabinet-level decisions were amended because burning for land clearing was identified as a potential cause of forest fires (Makarabhirom, 1998). In addition, a Royal Forest Department (RFD) official proposed that the drafted Community Forest Bill (currently being processed in the Parliament) should not be passed. He claimed that community forestry would perpetuate some of the causes of fires and, to prevent forest fires, no one should be permitted to stay in or around protected areas.

These arguments have led to hostile debates and increased conflicts between the government and villagers. Organizations supporting
community-based natural resource management are concerned about the widespread misperceptions and misrepresentations. This paper reviews local knowledge, experience and lessons learned about community-based fire management (CBFiM) in Thailand. It synthesises the current knowledge base and clarifies some misrepresented and poorly understood issues.

*2. Fire, rural life and misperceptions*

Fire is a universal tool used in forest management, particularly in site preparation, control of pests and diseases, and the reduction of fuel loads. Such practices also represent a potential cause of large-scale forest fires. Poor villagers living in and around forests have little choice but to use fires for: land preparation for crop production; promotion of mushrooms such as hed poa (/Astraeus hygrometricus/);

promotion of leaf growth of species like pak waan (/Melientha/ /suavis/); cultivation and promotion of bamboo or grass shoots such as phai paa (/Bambusa/ /arundinaceae/) and phai pek (/Arundinaria/ /purilla/); promotion of seed germination of species such as teak (/Tectona/ /grandis/); hunting wildlife such as wild pig (/Sus scrofa/), barking deer (/Muntiacus muntjak/), lan (/Varanus/ /bengalensis/) and wild fowl; managing growth of a grass called yaa mai guard (/Thysanolaene/ /maxima/) for the production of brooms (an activity undertaken by community groups in Nan Province); and promotion of yaa ka (/Imparata/ /cylindrica/), which is commonly used for making thatched roofs.

Some 40 years ago, many Thai development policies identified rural communities as a cause of forest fires. Since that time, communities have been blamed for forest destruction and degradation. Yet, they are the ones affected most by the loss of the forest resources that they depend on. Over the decades, traditional and cultural practices have been replaced and eroded by economic development and the introduction of commercial farming. This has resulted in the loss of indigenous knowledge of and community responsibility for fire management, transferring the onus to the government instead. The consequence of this detachment is that fire is no longer regarded as a useful tool, but rather a danger to the communities.

Since many communities have adopted various unsustainable practices, fire has more harmful effects. In highland communities, these effects are more apparent due to higher fire intensities. At mid to high elevations, the fire risk is greater as high fuel loads, steep slopes and prevailing climatic conditions make fire behaviour unpredictable. Highland communities face intense fires in demanding terrain, thus requiring more elaborate fire management approaches. The rapid expansion of agricultural development into previously forested highland areas has changed fire management from being a community concern to a nation-wide issue. The use of slash-and-burn cultivation to produce export crops is widely practised and has resulted in poorly managed fires. Since the introduction of "high-tech" intensive
agricultural production systems, many highland villages have changed
their tenurial systems from collective ownership to more individual
arrangements, which have contributed significantly to regulatory
problems. The abandonment of rotational shifting cultivation practices
also makes fire management more difficult.

Traditional uses of fire and forest resources have changed considerably
with altered land-use patterns and resource scarcity. In the past, some
of the highland groups in Northern Thailand (e.g. Karen and Lua)
practised rotational shifting cultivation. They had secure rights over
the land that they farmed, felt close to the land and the forests, and
returned back to the same land after long fallow periods. Today, the
government has assumed ownership, which in general has resulted in
unclear land and resource security. When a fire breaks out, highland
communities make no attempts to control it, as they have lost resource
tenure and access. In addition, communities find it increasingly
difficult to impose rules and regulations on outsiders because no tenure
agreements with government counterparts are included in present
regulations. This land tenure insecurity, and not the rotational
shifting cultivation system /per se/, has increased forest fire problems
in highland communities.

More uncontrolled fires are also occurring in Thailand due to climatic
changes and fuel accumulation in dry dipterocarp forests. The villagers
realize that uncontrolled fire destroys not only physical components of
the ecosystem, but impacts also on social systems. Many community
relationships disintegrate due to problems associated with fire events
(Anan Duangkaewruan, 1999). For example, the social structure of the Mae
Tha community in Chiang Mai Province broke down after a large fire that
brought on drought and social problems, forcing the villagers to search
for off-farm employment. In the Silalang Sub-district of Nan Province,
permanent crop production and burning of the forest also led to drought
and crop failures (Sathaporn, 1999).

The causes of forest fires continue to be debated. Some people argue
that monocultures or inappropriate agricultural production is the main
cause. Others point to poaching and recreational fires. All these
activities cause forest fires and in looking for solutions the emphasis
should not be on how fires start but what the underlying causes are and
why fires are started.

The villagers' dependence on forest resources, particularly non-timber
forest products (NTFPs), is the main reason for burning the forest. They
believe that fires stimulate the growth of mushrooms and wild
vegetables. Unsustainable development and government policies have
perpetuated their forest dependence by changing land-use patterns and
imposing restrictions without an adequate analysis of potential impacts
on local livelihoods. Impacts of alternative fire management approaches
should be analysed, and communities and the authorities should be
informed of the costs and benefits of fire on forest resources and the
appropriate ways to control fire (Nugen, 1999).

*3. Community-based fire management: rationale and development*

Many academics, policy makers and development workers are debating
whether communities are capable of managing forest fire. The academic
community has supported CBFiM by clearly stating that the community is
the key to the survival of forests through integrating indigenous
knowledge, conservation values and sustainable livelihoods. Managing the
forest with the full involvement of community members is more effective
for managing fire if it is an entrenched social responsibility in the
first place (Chamarik and Santasombut, 1994; Wasee, 1996; Sukwong, 1998;
Ganz /et al/., 2001).

Many communities have strong traditions that help enhance forest
richness - biological and cultural diversity - through innovative means
of forest fire management and integrated forest management. After all,
it is in their best interest to manage the forest and forest fires to
meet their livelihood needs. They realize that short-term solutions like
fire lines - if they are well maintained - can only provide protection
against fire itself. They cannot stop people from setting fires. This
implies that forest fire management requires the long-term commitment
and co-operation not only of community members but also those of
outsiders. One example of this broader approach is establishing networks
of communities that share similar problems (Box 1).

Opportunities for CBFiM exist all over Thailand. At present the
financial resources devoted to fire prevention and suppression are not
spent effectively. Although the budget for governmental fire management
and the number of Forest Protection Units have increased, forest fire
occurrences have also escalated. If implemented on a large scale, CBFiM
is likely to improve forest management and reduce costs to the government.

*Box 1: The forest fire management network of Mae Khan Watershed*

Villagers of Mae Khan Watershed have long been using indigenous
knowledge to manage fire as part of their rotational shifting
cultivation system. In the early 1990s, fires increasingly spread
outside the village. In response, villagers developed a collaborative
fire protection plan for the whole village. As time passed, fires began
to encroach on the village. As a solution, the villagers approached
neighbouring communities to set up a collaborative fire protection
network around the forest areas. Now, the concerned villages co-ordinate
their efforts in community-based forest fire management for protecting
the watershed.

For CBFiM to be effective, three fundamental components need to be
understood:

ecology and forest fire behaviour, particularly forest fire regimes;

the community, particularly its needs and the behaviour of its members; and

the relationships between fire and the community.

A fundamental understanding of fire ecology is necessary as communities
are managing fire - or ought to be managing fire - within a certain fire
regime that is suitable for the ecology of the forest type under forest
management. A situational analysis at the village level is necessary to
consolidate critical information on opportunities for and constraints to
implementing CBFiM. This analysis considers the natural, political and
socio-economic environment. The integration of information about the
fire regime, the variety of stakeholders and the situational analysis
into an operational plan is the basic premise of decentralised fire
management. The Thai government should take the leadership in CBFiM in
the region and ensure that the modernisation of forest fire management
in Thailand is based on sound knowledge.

*4. Forest fire management: a call for collective planning*

Fire management is part of forest management planning. This has been
evident in the Mae Tha community of Chiang Mai, Na Pho Nue village of
Ubon Ratchatani, Ka Lor community of Yala and Rom Pho Tong village of
Chasoengsao (Box 2). Forest management requires a plan that considers
and provides for community benefits. Similarly, proper fire management
calls for a fire management plan that responds to community needs. For
example, if the community relies on mushrooms or young grasses for its
livestock, or has fruit trees that need to be protected, then annual
prescribed burns should promote the growth of mushrooms or young
grasses, while ensuring that the fruit trees are not destroyed.

*Box 2: Collaborative fire management in Ban Rom Pho Tong, Eastern Region*

Fire management planning and activities are part of Rom Pho Tong
Village's community forest management plan. In 1995, a community
forestry development programme was prepared, followed by a management
plan in 1997. The villagers co-operated with the local Forest Fire
Control Unit to train village forest fire volunteers. Forest fires still
occur but are less likely to cause substantial damage.

In 1998, the Community Forestry committee started to extend its fire
management network to the neighbouring communities of Ban Khao Klui Mai
and Ban Sam Pran. A few months later, the network reached 20 villages
around the eastern forest. During monthly network meetings, the forest
fire situation in each village is discussed together with other
development and conservation activities. A self-motivated forest fire
network has been initiated as a result of the meetings and the
collective action on forest fire management.

As several cases indicate, there are strong linkages between CBFiM and
other development and conservation activities. CBFiM should be
considered a component of land-use planning and natural resource
management. Rather than taking on an independent identity, it should be
an integral part of an overall community capacity-building process.

*5. Promoting participation in fire management: a four-step process*

*/Step 1. Agreeing on common objectives and a collaborative management
plan/*

In fire management, clear objectives are necessary. They must address
all actors with vested interests in the forest area with regard to:

where to control fires;

where to burn; and

what methods to use.

Clear and agreed upon objectives avoid misunderstandings and frequent
jurisdictional problems. If the villagers request that local
organizations should take charge of fire management, then the Fire
Control Units should provide information and training to all actors to
raise awareness of the roles and responsibilities of each member of the
community.

*/Step 2. Managing the budget by local authorities/*

Fire management costs money. Many problems and obstacles (e.g. the lack
of equipment, budgets and personnel) restrict government agencies from
collaborating with communities to manage fire effectively. To remedy
this situation, communities must be informed about financial problems
and ask for the support of local organizations such as sub-district
councils and the local administration. Alternative and innovative
funding mechanisms need to be sought at the local levels. Financial
systems that will show how CBFiM can be effective while reducing costs
should be encouraged.

*/Step 3. Supporting information for fire management/*

Many villagers are interested in information on the effects of fire on
the production of mushrooms and other NTFPs. Unfortunately current
research on such issues is very weak. Credible research and the timely
dissemination of appropriate technologies are needed to influence the
adoption of improved practices.

*/Step 4. Shifting from protection and suppression to management/*

Forest fire management in Thailand has been centralised within one
government department. Recent valuable experiences in CBFiM and
collaborative fire management with other government projects are
disregarded. Research potentially leading to improved fire management is
ignored and community involvement in decision-making is difficult to
promote. The following recommendations can help improve fire management:

Increase community involvement in forest fire management

Adjust existing laws and policies, as appropriate, to enhance community
involvement in fire management

Policies and laws need to promote collaborative management and the
co-operation between people and government agencies

Search for alternative ecologically sound forest fire management

Improved forest management is required for managing forest fires,
especially in watershed areas.

Analyse forest fire management experiences to identify opportunities for
improved community collaboration

Participatory analyses are necessary to investigate the forest fire
situation, which will aid in collaborative planning and applying
religious rites - such as forest ordinations - to raise people's
awareness to conserve forests, and assist in enrichment tree planting,
natural forest restoration and fire management activities.

Provide technical knowledge on fire management

Technical knowledge on fire management should be extended to all actors.
Training should be provided not only to highland but also to the
foothill and lowland communities who also use fire in land-use practices.

Conduct research to support management decision processes

Greater efforts should be placed on understanding the effects of fire on
forest products. If alternatives are found to manage NTFPs that
villagers depend on and information is adequately disseminated, then a
reduction in the number of fires may follow.

Develop local networks to support fire management

Encourage the establishment and development of local groups and
organizations in each community for the planning and implementation of
fire management. If these organizations (e.g. village committees or
groups of teachers, youth and women) can work together with the
officials at the community level, then fires will be managed efficiently.

These seven recommendations are based on the principle that "fire
management is the joint duty of all people and organizations to plan."
Therefore, it is necessary that the communities, officials and
non-governmental organizations plan how to manage fire together. The
co-operation of the communities is absolutely necessary as they can
develop and implement fire protection methods faster and more
effectively than outsiders (Sathaporn, 1998). Local communities have
clear understanding of local conditions and circumstances important for
successful fire management.

*References*

Anan Duangkaewruan. (1999). Personal communication.

Chamarik & Santasombut (eds.). (1994). Community forest in Thailand:
development trend. Copy No. 1. Local Development Institute, Bangkok.

Ganz, D. J., Moore, P. & Shields, B. (eds.). (2001). Workshop report,
International Workshop on Community Based Fire Management, December 6-8,
2000, RECOFTC Training and Workshop Report Series, 2001/3. Bangkok.

Makarabhirom, Pearmsak. (1998). Forest fire management and
globalisation: lesson learned and recommendations. /Community// Forest//
Newsletter/ 5 (10): 4-12. RECOFTC, Bangkok.

Nugen. (1999). In/ Summary of a National Seminar on Participatory Forest
Fire Management/, held at RECOFTC 9-10 February 1999, RECOFTC, Bangkok.

Sathaporn. (1999). In /Summary of a National Seminar on Participatory
Forest Fire Management/, held at RECOFTC 9-10 February 1999. RECOFTC,
Bangkok.

Sukwong, Somsak. (1998). Local culture "Khao Mor Kang Mor" for fighting
forest fire. In /Community// Forest// Newsletter/ 5 (10): 13-15.
RECOFTC, Bangkok.

Wasee. (1996). /Community forestry development in Thailand/. RECOFTC,
Bangkok. pp. 27-34.




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