The Expert Consultation on Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 held in Kotka, Finland (June 1996) recommended that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) provide annual statistics/estimates for the Forest Resources Assessment 2000 for each country on the number of forest fires and the area burned over the period 1990-2000. Although FAO has provided forest fire management assistance for years, including data collection and dissemination, the organization recognized that current data on fires are still incomplete. Thus, it remains difficult to assess the annual degradation of forests caused by wildfires.
The Forest Resources Assessment process 2000 provided an opportunity for FAO to define the global effects of fires on forests as a part of the forest assessment that is undertaken every ten years. The report “Global Forest Fire Assessment: 1990-2000” was prepared by the Global Fire Monitoring Center and Fire Management Applications (USA). The report summarizes the results of questionnaires and contacts with countries to obtain wildfire data and narrative information regarding the fire situation. The report is organized according to FAO’s six geographical regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, North and Central America and South America. In-depth fire situation profiles are presented for 48 countries, with shorter reports highlighting fire conditions in several additional countries. Much of the information was either prepared by the correspondents of International Forest Fire News (IFFN) and the GFMC or taken from the IFFN archive. Although the submission of wildfire data on fire numbers, area burned and causes fell short of expectations, the importance of regularly recording and evaluating such information has been established with Member countries. This assessment of the global forest fire situation revealed strengths and weaknesses associated with sustaining the health and productivity of the world’s forests when threatened by drought, wildfires and an increasing demand for natural resources.
The full global fire report of more than 500 printed pages is on file at FAO and will possibly be published in the near future (hard copy or CD ROM). However, in any case FAO and GFMC will successively put standard
country profiles on the forest fire situation on the FAO website (http://www.fao.org/forestry/fo/country/nav_world.jsp). Since a large number of country profiles has been collected as IFFN contributions, e.g. the country reports of the Baltic Region in this issue, in conjunction with the Baltic Exercise on Fire Information and Resources Exchange (BALTEX FIRE 2000), most of the full reports will be published in the IFFN issues 23 to 26. The readers of IFFN are kindly reminded that all 72 IFFN forest fire country notes that have been collected between 1990 and 2000 are accessible in the GFMC archive on the Internet (http://www.ruf.uni-freiburg.de/fireglobe/iffn/country/country.htm).
This IFFN issue provides a Baltic Fire Special, including the BALTEX FIRE 2000 report. In addition we present the fill report of the FAO/ITTO International Expert Meeting on Forest Fire Management (Rome, Italy, 7-9 March 2001). At the time of printing this issue the first meeting of the Working Group Wildland Fire of the Interagency Task Force on Disaster Reduction (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction – ISDR), will take place in Geneva (3-4 May 2001). The Editor of IFFN provides a full report on the precursor work of the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire and the Global Fire Monitoring Center towards the establishment of this first global and intersectoral platform for wildland fires.
The 2001 Fire Season
At the time of writing this Editorial there are an increasing number of precursor signals that indicate another “hot” wildland fire season. Rainfall and snow layers well below long-term averages have been recorded in some parts of the world, including the Mediterranean region and North America. All nations that had been affected by extreme wildfire situations in 2000 have been active to be prepared for another extreme year in which all national resources will be needed to prevent and reduce damages caused by wildfires. Other regions, such as Southeast Asia, will continue to have a fire break. The year 2001 will not be affected by an El Niño. Thus, burning activities and wildfires escaping from land-use fires will be rather limited.
The year 2000 has seen an increasing international interest to collaborate in large forest fire emergencies, e.g. by providing assistance to countries that are short in personnel and equipment. After the 2001 fire season we will evaluate if the visions of the international fire community have been realized.