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Fire prevention involves “improving the quality of existing forests”

Ecological restoration is the most important tool to reduce the risk of large fires in forests, according to the new report from the environmental NGO WWF, which in Portugal works with the Associação Natureza Portugal (ANP).

Along with topography and meteorological conditions, the landscape, namely its “availability and continuity†, completes the triangle of fire behavior in a given territory. In this sense, it is not enough to increase the forest area, giving priority to reforestation, traditionally equated to restoration.

“The main priority is to improve the quality of existing forests,†summarizes the report. The idea is to “help them, actively or passively, improve their structure, functioning and the ecosystem services they provide, in order to increase their resilience and biodiversity†.

There are several aspects to consider when designing landscape recovery instruments, which must “combine a large-scale territorial planning perspective with initiatives at local level†.

Firstly, it is necessary to “set priorities†in relation to “areas of high fire risk, in terms of frequency and danger†, namely “places of poor accessibility†. At the same time, the “economically most depressed†or “with the highest unemployment†areas must be privileged, so that, subsequently, the “uses and benefits of restored ecosystems†can serve the population.

The recognition of “strategic action zones†depends on a “close public-private partnership†, since, in Portugal, “due to historical factors, 98% of the forest surface is private , including communal areas, and only 2% of the forest is public,†recall WWF Portugal and ANP.

Diversify landscapes

Secondly, it is necessary to discontinue the “millions of hectares of monospecific forests (…) that have been burned many times and that fuel the next fire†, choosing, instead, “the diversity of species, the horizontal and vertical discontinuity or the age structure of trees.

On the other hand, restoration actions should favor the proliferation of more mature forests, since a large part of the landscapes in Portugal “are very young†and “particularly vulnerable to large fires†€.

The creation of “agroforestry landscapes†, which combine “agricultural systems of high natural value, intended for herds of sheep or goats (…) or for small crops, such as chestnut or cherry trees, or olive groves†with “diverse forests†are also an effective strategy, as they function as “productive firebreaks†.

The Peneda-Gerês National Park is an example of conservation of its more than 69 thousand hectares, safeguarding species and habitats

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Additionally, managed fires can be combined with prescribed burns, methods of “risk management” about which “there is a growing social consensus”.

The recovery of abandoned forests, one of the main factors in the vulnerability of rural territories to fires, must be done “in a participatory manner†in order to “plan uses that help to diversify the landscape†, replacing species such as eucalyptus and diversifying the pine species “with others more adapted to the new conditions†.

Furthermore, it is essential to “privise forestry oriented towards the production of quality wood, which favors hardwood plantations such as chestnut, oak, walnut and cherry”. These species are more profitable in the “medium and long term, since the best qualities are intended for longer-lasting uses†.

Coordinating the use of resources and nature conservation, they promote, for example, “low-intensity thinning†and “selective cleaning of bushes†to prevent “vertical fuel continuity and reduce structural vulnerability to large forest fires†.

According to the report, since 2022, investment in prevention has exceeded the amount allocated to fighting fires in Portugal, “which may have contributed to the lower number of fires and burned area in the last decade. each†registered in 2023. “This strategy shows that it is essential to continue focusing on prevention.â€

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Francesco Giganti

Journalist, social media, blogger and pop culture obsessive in newshubpro

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