The Reserve “Khakassky” is ready for steppe fires

02:28 PM

Fire is a natural disaster causing material damage, resulting in loss of life and damage to health, and causing ecological damage.  Steppe fires arise on open areas with dry vegetation, with fire spreading at speeds of up to 25 km/h with a strong wind.

Seven of the nine Khakass reserve sites are located in a steppe and forest-steppe zone of our republic. They are most liable to threat of a steppe fire occurrence.  The principal cause of steppe fires in reserved territories is unsustainable economic activities of human beings. All steppe sites of the Reserve “Khakassky” border on settlements and villages in which locals live; after all, more than 20 thousand persons are neighbors of our reserved territories.

Uncontrolled agricultural grassland fires cripple the reserve nature. Our countrymen consider that setting fire to last year’s grass burns steppe ticks and helps to grow new grass faster. However, this small blessing means huge problems for the environment. During a fire the fertile layer of earth burns away, habitats and bird nests burn down, insects and small animals perish, and seeds of plants burn to ash. The steppe grows poorer; many kinds of plants disappear, which are valuable not only for their beauty, but also for their fodder qualities.

Spring and autumn steppe fires are a problem not only for the steppe as itself. Khakass steppe is rich in lakes, wetlands and rivers. All of these areas are very important for waterfowl. Since the most ancient times, Khakassia has been a resting spot for birds during autumn and spring migrations. Up to 200 thousand swans, geese, ducks, cranes and other kinds of birds arrive at our lakes in April and October to have a rest and to feed. It is very important, that at this time, it is quiet in steppe that there are no fires. At this particular time, restless Khakass inhabitants set fire to dry grass with impressive stubbornness.

The Reserve “Khakassky” has struggled with steppe fires in its own territory for many years already. We make protective 5-meter-wide fire-prevention strip, by ploughing up the earth twice a year, along all steppe borders (more than 1000 km). In the summer we mow grass where ploughing the earth is impossible, and in the late autumn, we burn tall grass there. These actions create rupture strips in an otherwise unbroken steppe grassland and fire stops at the border of such strips as it would at a river bank.

In addition, we have provided all our staff with fire-prevention equipment – motorised water-pumps, special foam extinguishers and blast engines. All our sites are provided with mobile communication that increases the efficiency of reaction to fire threat.  We have created special operative groups, which drive to areas where fire danger is and help their colleagues to extinguish the fire. These actions reduce the burnt area annually. From 2002 to 2005, our reserve steppe sites burned 30 times, with almost 22 thousand hectare has burned down. Many of our sites used to burn annually, sometimes several times in a season. In 2007 more than 7 thousand hectares of a steppe areas of the Reserve “Khakassky” have been burnt, in 2008 – 1.4 thousand hectares, but in 2009-2011 – nothing.

A similar situation is characteristic for same steppe and inundated reserves and the wetland-centers of Russia. Major efforts and money have been spent on suppression of such fires. But, in our opinion, it is better to make more efforts to address prevention of occurrence of fires, than to extinguish them. Experience from our reserve shows that a whole-system approach to the problem is necessary.  It is possible not only to reduce the number of fires, but also to protect reserve areas from them completely, if dedicated money is put aside annually in creation of an effective fire-prevention infrastructure.

Elena Kim

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