Emergency wildfire management in Bale Mountains
In response to wildfires in Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, RRF granted $14,625 to Frankfurt Zoological Society to develop more effective fire-fighting and fire prevention capacity.
The Bale Mountains National Park is a tentative natural World Heritage Site in the Ethiopian highlands, and represents the largest area of afro-alpine habitat in Africa. The area is internationally recognised as a centre for biodiversity and endemism, with a quarter of local mammals and 6% of birds endemic to Ethiopia (not found anywhere else in the world). The area is also home to the largest global populations of Endangered Ethiopian Wolves (Canis simensis). In addition, Bale Mountains is a valuable water tower, providing water regulation for millions of people downstream.
However, this immensely important park is under threat. Although fire is a natural feature in some of the habitats, in recent years, the combination of hotter extended dry seasons and increased fires set by people is causing unsustainable habitat destruction. Pressure for grazing land, honey harvesting and slash and burn cultivation are all associated with fires. The 2019 dry season fires burned significant areas of critical habitats, including in the Harenna forest, the largest natural forest in Ethiopia. Clearly, there is an urgent need for effective fire management and prevention measures, to prevent further devastating damage to this valuable site.
The RRF grant to Frankfurt Zoological Society will support development of a more rapid, effective and safe fire response. Specifically, the funds will provide training for key Ethiopian personnel from Bale National Park to benefit from technical guidance from leading fire experts. Topics are likely to include Integrated Fire Management, technical fire-fighting in the field, logistics and restoration post fire.
The goal is for the park management and local administration to develop a fire management strategy, with action plans for different fire scenarios.
An important element of the project is to raise awareness of the risk of fire and the damage it causes amongst local communities; meetings will be held in key communities where fires are most frequent to try and reduce their use of fire. Capacity will be developed in fire management, and volunteers will be sought for local fire committees, who could play an integral part saving the park.
Preventing future fires and being better prepared to deal with fires when they do occur will help to secure this critical habitat and its high prevalence of endemic species in the long-term.