During the 1970’s and 80’s, the Instituto Forestal Nacional (IFONA) of Argentina was directly involved in forest fire suppression, mainly in the Patagonian Andine Region, jointly with the Provincial Government Forest Offices and the National Park Administration. The task consisted in supporting the provinces till they may take the responsibilities alone.
Action in the rest of the country wasn’t resembling because the forest lands and brush lands (chaparrales) are mainly private property. IFONA indirectly acted with the promotion of forest producer consortia (non-profit organizations) in order to support private enterprises in the protection of their own resources. Operative centres were installed to encourage and support country settlers in fire fighting actions.
Some of the forest and grazing land fires in Argentina are started by natural causes. The most important source of forest fires, however, is related to the pastoral land use. Like in many places in the world the introduction of animal husbandry in forested lands leads to an increase of the wildfire risk. Extensive repeated burning in many cases leads to the invasion of prophetic grasses which are not accepted by the cattle. In addition, the impact of the regularly occurring uncontrolled fires enhance the general long-term effect of degradation caused by grazing/browsing and trampling.
Fig.1. Fire-damaged stand of Nothofagus pumilio near Esquel, Province of Chubut, Argentina
The overall lack of information on the impact of fires on Argentina’s rangelands and other wildlands does not permit any further statements. However, probably several millions of hectares of forest and grazing lands burn throughout the country every year. Considering only fires reported to IFONA by some provinces and National Parks, ca. 6.6 million ha were affected by fire during last six years. Although the area affected by fire every year is not known exactly, it must be assumed that the magnitude of vegetation degradation and burning activities in Argentina contributes considerably to the emission of gases which react photochemically (e.g. by forming ozone) and may also contribute to the global “Greenhouse Effect”. The general lack of information on the extent and impact of fires in the various forest, sub-forest, steppe and grassland biomes clearly demonstrates the need to develop a research program which would provide the basic data for further fire management planning.
With the technical and financial support of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), IFONA is now preparing a research and development program in fire ecology and fire management. In close cooperation with the Fire Ecology and Biomass Burning Research Group (Max Planck Institute of Chemistry/University of Freiburg) and various national offices (Instituto Ncional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria [INTA] and various provincial administrations) it is planned to carry out following research and development programs:
National fire mapping
Classification of fuel types
Fire occurrence study related to anthropological, socio-cultural and -economic reasons
Impact of fire on vegetation dynamics
Prescribed burning in commercial (man-made) forests
Remote sensing of fires
The overall aim of the program (to be implemented between 1991 and 1993) is to reduce the negative impacts of uncontrolled fires on Argentina’s forests and other lands and on regional processes related to the impact of emissions from biomass burning on the atmosphere.
From: Omar Tesolin Director de Investigación, Protección y Extensión Forestal Address: Instituto Nacional Forestal Pueyrredón 2446 ARG-1119 Buenos Aires (Capital Federal) Phone: +54-1-803 4206 Fax: +54-1-803 2815