The forest fires, touched off by timber smugglers, poachers and farmers, have been a particular problem this year as a result of high temperatures and low rainfall, experts say.
Nationwide, the country is losing an average of a million hectares to fires each year, according to a 2014 report from the government’s National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).
The losses, combined with those from surging illegal logging, mean India has lost 2,511 square kilometres of dense and moderately dense forest since 2013, according to the Environment Ministry’s 2015 Forest Survey of India report.
That loss is a significant worry for a country trying to dramatically reduce its climate-changing emissions. As part of pledges made toward a new global deal to curb climate change, agreed in Paris in December, India has said it will increase its ability to store carbon in forests and land by up to 3 billion tons by 2030.
But criminal activity, extreme weather and flawed data all stand in the way of India’s quest to go greener, experts say, and the problem in Uttarakhand illustrates how hard achieving those goals may be.