Editorial (IFFN No. 28 – January 2002)


(IFFN No. 28 – July 2003)

Atthe time of preparation of IFFN No.28 the preparations for the 3rdInternational Wildland Fire Conference, Sydney, Australia, 3-6 October 2003, arein full swing. Six years after the 2nd International Wildland FireConference (Vancouver, Canada, May 1997) there will be another opportunity forthe international community of wildland fire managers, scientists and policymakers to meet at a common forum and to share experiences, views and visions onglobal fire issues. Most important will be the topics of science and technologytransfer, and international cooperation in wildland fire management. Since 1997the world of fire has undergone dramatic changes. At the time of the VancouverConference the strong El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO)event sent its first precursor signals. One year later drought and extendedwildfires, many of them escaped from land-use and conversion burnings, leftscorched and destroyed forests and other vegetation around the globe,particularly in South East Asia and Latin America. The pan-tropical fire crisiswas followed by the most extreme series of fire seasons in the U.S.A. For thefirst time in history the U.S.A. called for fire management assistance fromcountries outside of North America. Fire management specialists from Australiaand New Zealand rushed to a nation that was struck by fires of almostunprecedented intensities and severities, leaving more than 2.9 million hascorched lands. After a moderate fire season of 2001 (area burned: 1.5 million)wildfires picked up again in 2002 and burned another 2.9 million ha.

Inthe boreal forests of the Russian Federation large fires occurred in the FarEast region and led to considerable damages on commercial forests, ecosystemsand endangered species. Satellite data revealed an area burned of more than 2.4million ha in Khabarovsk Territory alone and about 9.4 million ha on the wholeterritory of the Russian Federation. In the year 2000 the fires began toescalate. In Amur Region satellites depicted fire on 19.9 million ha and inBuryatiya 1.4 million ha. In 2002 and early 2003 the situation got even worse.The reports from Russia in this issue of IFFN indicate a total area of 11.7million ha affected by fire during the fire season of 2002. In Kazakhstan morethan 2.8 million ha were burned. At the time of writing this editorial (on 20July 2003) the total area affected by wildland fires in the Russian Federationis more than 21 million ha – a size almost doubled as compared to the hotseason of last year.

Firesburning in other regions of the world are unfortunately not so well documented.Global satellite datasets for the year 2000 indicate that the total areaaffected by wildland fires, land-use fires – including conversion fires andregular rangeland burnings – was more than 350 million ha. What we don’tknow or what is extremely difficult to be assessed by looking at fires fromspace: What is the share of the fires that have negative effects on theenvironment, i.e. fires threatening the sustainability of the ecosystemsconcerned, what is the share of fires that have beneficial effects on ecosystemstability and land-use system productivity, and how many of these fires haveindifferent effects and can be tolerated?

TheFAO Global Forest Fire Assessment 1990-2000 attempted to answer some of thesequestions. However, the lack of reliable data including the lack of agreedcriteria and indicators for damage assessments limited the global evaluation ofthe real magnitude and impacts of fire. It is timely that an internationalconsensus will be reached to develop standards for fire assessment. But notenough. We are recognizing that the multiple and accumulating effects of globalchange are creating conditions favourable for more destructive fires. Allregions of the world are now experiencing increasing climate extremes, most ofthem leading in one way or another to an increase of wildland fire hazard andfire risk.

Thisis why the first International Wildland Fire Summit is now being prepared inconjunction with the 3rd International Wildland Fire Conference, on 8October 2003. Allcountries attending the Sydney conference are searching for pragmatic andsustainable answers to the mitigation of risks to health and safety ofcommunities, and the environmental, ecological and economic damage caused byuncontrolled wildland fires. Each country has valuable contributions forproviding synergistic solutions. Many countries and international agencies,especially those with well developed wildland fire management systems or withresources available to share, are in the position to assist others that are inneed of help. The participants at the Summit have an unprecedented opportunityto consider the key issues and to help identify solutions and ways to commit toglobal action. All communities around the world afflicted by wildland fires canbenefit from initiatives taken at this Summit.

IFFNreaders are encouraged to follow the preparation of the InternationalWildland Fire Summit. The GFMC has established a summit website at https://gfmc.online/summit-2003/introduction.htmand will reportabout the outcomes of the conference and summit in its next volume by end of2003.


Freiburg, July 2003                                                                               Johann G. Goldammer


 IFFN No. 28 ]

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