The 1st International Scientific Conference on “Fires in Mediterranean Forests: Prevention – Supression – Soil Erosion – Reforestation”
Athens, Greece, 3 – 6 February 1999
(IFFN No. 20 – March 1999,p. 88-90)
The protection of natural forest ecosystems reflects the cultural level of a people and of a country and it should, therefore, be a first priority issue for the Mediterranean countries.
Forest fires and Mediterranean forest ecosystems have co-existed for millennia and they will continue to do so. There is, however, a continuous change in the balance between them and with a tendency for an increase in forest fires and a reduction in forests. This is mainly the result of human activities. Mediterranean forests are restored nearly completely after a fire if they are protected from human activities. Consequently, forest protection is not accomplished just by putting out the fire.
During recent decades, there has been a dramatic increase in both the number of fires and the area burnt. This is one of the main reasons for the initiative of UNESCO to organize this Conference.
The conclusions of the Conference are the following:
In the last decades the objective of forest resource management, especially in Mediterranean countries, has shifted from production of material products to production of non-material goods and services from the forest, with an emphasis on environmental protection and ecological balance.
The scientific reports presented at this conference have underlined the importance of fire prevention. They have made obvious also, that the individuals who are in charge of decision-making do not fully appreciate the ecological role of fire in the Mediterranean forest. Consequently, any relevant decisions emphasize only the suppression of fires and the acquisition of the means to achieve it. As a result, funds are allocated accordingly.
The presentations made evident the need for a shift towards an integrated management of the presence of fire in Mediterranean forest ecosystems, instead of continually concentrating on the partial concepts of forest fire prevention and suppression. This objective requires cooperation of many scientific disciplines and utilization of research findings. The use of prescribed burning, especially in range- land management, can be an important tool in this direction.
The forest fire phenomenon is managed differently from one Mediterranean country to another. In most countries the responsibility for prevention and suppression belongs to the Forest or Environmental Services, but in a few countries or regions of countries fire suppression responsibility belongs to the Fire Brigade. (Source: Report of the European Union forest fire experts, Brussels, July 16-17, 1997). The effectiveness of the governmental choices involved was discussed during the Conference. It became evident that fire management schemes controlled and coordinated by one integrated organization are relatively more efficient. However, it is necessary to distinguish and identify the responsibilities and functions of all organizations and Services involved, aiming to achieve the best possible cooperation and to avoid contradictions and “turf battles”, thus securing effective coordination, as well.
Education about fire risk-danger and self-protection of structures and human activities within forestlands in the Mediterranean region, especially in the urban-wildland interface, must be a basic element of every fire protection policy.
At the Conference many informatics systems for support of forest fire management were presented, based on modern technology (GIS, remote sensing, Decision support systems, fire danger prediction systems and technology, etc.); many of them were the outcome of research in Mediterranean countries of the European Union. It was concluded that some of these systems have reached operational status while others are still at research level. It is then necessary to support their application and to evaluate and study their feasibility in relation to the improvement of function and increase in effectiveness of the organizations that their employment may have. Cooperation between countries and scientists that use such technology already at operational level with countries that have not reached this stage may prove very useful and should be supported by the responsible organizations.
From the papers presented at the Conference the importance of post-fire soil erosion, especially due to high intensity fires, became evident. Forest fire management must seriously consider the need for taking measures (e.g. fuel reduction, prescribed burning) aimed at reducing fire intensity and, consequently, the negative effects of wildfires. Similarly, after the fire the potential for disaster should be evaluated and appropriate measures for rehabilitation and protection of the area must be taken (timber salvage, erosion prevention measures, natural regeneration protection, etc.).
Regarding post-fire management practices in Mediterranean forest ecosystems the experts stressed that these ecosystems are well adapted to fire. After a fire intervention should be limited and carefully planned. Enforcement of measures preventing changes in land use of burned forest areas is the most important requirement for their protection.
An effective communication policy, highlighting the problem and educating citizens about the danger of causing forest fires, as well as on forest ecology issues, must be an integral part of forest protection policies.
The support of International Organizations towards Mediterranean countries should be aimed at reinforcing cooperation in the Mediterranean region, in managing the problem of forest fires through organized Conferences or meetings of scientists, managers and politicians must continue. Also a system should be established in order to utilize better the conclusions and suggestions of these Conferences, so that they will be seriously taken into consideration and will be incorporated in future political decisions on the forest fire problem in Mediterranean countries.
The participants of the Conference also agreed on and accepted the following special declarations:
The Conference expresses its sympathy for the extensive destruction of the Greek forests, due to the large wildfires during the summer of 1998. The losses of human lives, and the environmental and socioeconomic disaster have deeply concerned the international community and, especially, Mediterranean countries. As a result, the responsible authorities of Mediterranean countries are called to take, as soon as possible, all the appropriate political and organizational measures that will ensure the utilization of all the existing long-term experience in forest fire control of all the organizations and Services involved, in order to avoid similar biblical disasters of the Mediterranean forest wealth in the future.
The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) was established in 1998 and is currently co-sponsored, among others, by UNESCO, the IDNDR and several international fire research programmes, and cooperates with UN-ECE/FAO and FAO Silva Mediterranea. The overall goal of the GFMC is to facilitate information exchange and decision support at an international level by providing near real-time fire monitoring, archive data and other relevant information. Mediterranean countries are urged to actively contribute to continuously improve the information and data flow to the GFMC in order to create a most complete fire information system, to share expertise and to contribute to common international action programmes in fire management and policy development.