News from ECE/FAO: UN FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire Minutes of the Meeting, Warsaw, Poland, 9 May 1998

News from ECE/FAO:

Team of Specialists on Forest Fire Minutes of the Meeting

Warsaw, Poland, 9 May 1998

(IFFN No. 19 – September 1998,p. 88-93)

The meeting was held in conjunction with the First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires, Poland, 4-8 May 1998


As agreed by the 13th session of the Steering Committee of the Joint FAO/ECE/ILO Committee on Forest Technology, Management and Training, the Team of Specialists on Forest Fire co-sponsored the First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires, Poland, 4-8 May 1998. The objectives and recommendations of the conference are summarized in ANNEX I. The Team leader took the opportunity to invite the team for a satellite meeting held one day after the conference.

1. Report of the Team Leader, Mr. J.G.Goldammer

1.1 The 1997-98 fire and smoke episode

The team leader reported about the significant fire and smoke episode of 1997-98 in South East Asia and South America. The January 1998 issue of International Forest Fire News (IFFN) describes in detail the views of parties involved in SE Asia. The July issue will further continue in analyzing the situation in SE Asia and will add contributions from Brazil and Central America.

It was agreed by the team members that in general the international media, public, and politics need to be informed more precisely on the reasons of burning and smoke emissions because most of the international response to the crisis addressed the wrong causative complex.

The issue no. 18 of IFFN was unusually comprehensive due to the events in SE Asia and the preparation of the First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires. Including the two regions with an extended “Special” section in IFFN was on purpose. The editor intended to highlight the fact that fire and smoke are expression of land use and land-use changes. The SE Asian and the Baltic Regions differ from eachother entirely, but have in common a phase of intensive fire utilization – historically in the Baltic Basin, currently in SE Asia.

Regional border-crossing (transboundary) problems (fire, smoke) and mechanisms to jointly overcome these problems by mutual research, development and assistance programmes are also common in the two regions. The mechanisms addressing transboundary pollution in the ECE region and the EU may provide guidance to similar mechanisms to be established the ASEAN region. The team will follow up this development. The next event will be the “Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on Transboundary Pollution, Singapore, 27-28 May 1998” organized by the Germany-Singapore Environmental Technology Agency in which the ECE experience in transboundary air pollution will be presented by various speakers; the team leader will report about common transboundary issues related to fire and haze in the ECE and the ASEAN region.

1.2 International Forest Fire News (IFFN)

IFFN is receiving new sponsorship. Starting in 1998, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has begun to financially sponsor the production of IFFN by granting 4000 US-Dollars per year. The funds go directly to the editorial office (home office of the team leader) and are used for the camera-ready production of IFFN.

On behalf of the Joint Committee, the Team of Specialists and the international readers the team leader and editor once again expressed his gratitude to the representative of the BLM in the team meeting, Mr. Edward Shepard.

IFFN will continue to actively contribute to ECE-wide and global efforts in building strong partnerships in fire-related issues at all levels of research, management, and policy development. The details of the activities of the team, including the results of the FAO/ECE Seminar “Forest, Fire, and Global Change” (Russia, 1996) and the International Fire Conference “Wildland Fire ’97” (Canada, 1997), which was supported by the team, are reported in detail in the pages of IFFN. The recommendations of both conferences are attached in ANNEXES II and III.

1.3 Link of the Team’s work with international organizations and programmes (IDNDR, ITTO, FAO, WMO, WHO, UNEP)

The team leader explained in detail the relationship of the team’s activities within and outside the ECE region:

1.3.1 International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR)

Close links were established to the IDNDR Secretariat in Geneva. In July 1997 the team leader was entrusted with the formation of a Working Group “Fire and Related Environmental Hazards” of the IDNDR Early Warning Programme. The recommendations of the report which was submitted to IDNDR in 1997 were incorporated into the Report of the UN Secretary General “Improved effectiveness of early-warning systems with regard to natural and similar disasters”; the full text of the Working Group Report will be released by IDNDR within the next few weeks. The report will be presented at the IDNDR “Early Warning Conference 98” (EWC98) in Potsdam (September 1998) during which the team leader will convene a session on Environmental and Technological hazards.

Team members involved in the preparation of the report were Mr. Goldammer (team leader, Germany), Mr.B.Stocks (Canada), and Mr.M.Fosberg (IGBP-USA/Germany).

The IDNDR activities are also linked to the activities of the Disaster Management Support Project of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellite (CEOS) and the proposed Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN).

The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs through its IDNDR funds confirmed its decision to provide the home institute of the team leader with funds to establish a “Unit for Monitoring Climate Variability, Fire, Smoke and International Response in South East Asia” (tentative designation / tasks of the unit), starting 1 June 1998. This IDNDR contribution may have significant chances to further expand its terms of reference towards a “Global Fire Monitoring Unit” (see topic 4 of team session).

1.3.2 International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)

In 1997 the ITTO published the “ITTO Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests” (ITTO Policy Development Series No. 6). The team leader acted as senior author to the basic document which entered the final version of the guidelines prepared by an international panel; and adopted and released by the ITTC. The guidelines for the first time provide a general framework for fire policy and management development. They encourage fine tuning of guidelines at regional and national levels. While the guidelines provide a clear focus on the tropical and subtropical world, they are exemplary for other vegetation zones.

Indonesia was the first country which received assistance by ITTO and other donors to develop national guidelines, a project which is in the final stage at present and was supported by the team. It is expected that Namibia will be the next country which will create a national round table and go into a similar process of developing a national fire programme.

1.3.3 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The cooperation between FAO and the team was discussed the head of the Forestry Department, FAO Assistant Director General M. Hosny El-Lakany, in Geneva during the UNEP Fire Response Coordination meeting (20-21 April 1998; see topic 1.3.6). It was agreed to further strengthen the cooperation in the field of fire. FAO intends to call for an expert meeting on fire in October 1998, and the team is ready to support the meeting if requested. From the point of view of the team it will be most important to come to an agreement on a procedure for collecting global fire data in the frame of the Global Forest Resources Assessment (see topic 3 on Global Fire Statistics).

1.3.4 World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

As a consequence of the South East Asian fire episode the WMO is calling for a Workshop on Regional Transboundary Smoke and Haze in South-East Asia (2-5 June 1998, Singapore). The workshop is one element of WMO’s efforts to enhance the capacity and capability of National Hydrometeorological and Meteorological Services (NMHSs) in South-East Asia to monitor and model smoke and haze episodes and the long range transport of anthropogenic pollutants, and to improve the NMHS’s abilities to advise, alert, and generally manage these pollution events. This will involve review and discussion of regional plans such as the WMO-PARTS (Program to Address ASEAN Regional Transboundary Smoke). Through the participation of the team it is envisaged to contribute the expertise gained from research and development in the fire sector in the SE Asian region and to propose to include the South East Asian Fire Experiment (SEAFIRE) of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) as a joint UN-WMO/IGBP activity in exploring the role of fire in regional and global atmospheric processes. The IGBP-SEAFIRE is coordinated by the team leader.

1.3.5 World Health Organization (WHO)

The recurrence of transboundary smoke originating from land-use fires and wildfires is cause of acute and long-term respiratory health problems and requires the development of a comprehensive strategy based on broad international consensus. As a consequence of the recent smoke episodes the WHO is convening a small group of high-level experts to develop “Guidelines for Forest Fire Emergencies”. The workshop will take place in Lima (Peru), August 1998. The team leader will support the WHO in preparing the guidelines.

1.3.6 UNEP

The team also supported the UNEP Meeting “Coordination UN Response to Indonesian Fires”, 20-21 April 1998, Geneva. The following team members participated: Mr. E. Davidenko (Russia), Mr.J.G.Goldammer (team leader), Mr. B. Stocks (Canada), and Mr. R. Vélez (Spain). The meeting involved officials from various UN agencies (e.g., OCHA, UNEP, FAO, WMO, WHO), fire management experts, NGO’s, and – in the final part – the donor community. One result of the meeting was the design of an internationally supported fire disaster response (fire control campaign) aimed to suppress the wildfires that had started to spread during the second phase of the drought in early 1998, mainly in East Kalimantan.

Before the beginning and after the Geneva planning meeting the team leader communicated with the Executive Director General of UNEP, Dr.K.Töpfer, in order to express their views on the current and long-term fire and smoke issues in the SE Asian region and elsewhere.

The team leader has offered to the UNEP Executive Director General to further support UNEP in the important task of coordinating the UN response.

1.3.7 Other

During the “Wildland Fire 1997” conference in Vancouver the team, represented by the team lader and Mr. J. Najera (UN-ECE Trade Division, Timber Section) for the first time officially met with the representatives of the North American Forestry Commission, Fire Management Study Group (NAFC-FMSG).

As a result of the meeting the NAFC-FMSG endorsed the recommendations which came out of the UN FAO/ECE Seminar on Forest, Fire, and Global Change, held in Shushenskoe, Russia 1996. The letter of endorsement was signed by Ms. Mary Jo Lavin (USA, chair of the FMSG) and the representatives of Canada (Mr. A. Simard) and Mexico (Mr. O. Cedeno).

In order to further strengthen the cooperation the team leader invited NAFC-FMSG to join the International Forest Fire News as a co-sponsor. Basically this would allow the Study Group to publish their reports without creating an own newsletter and avoid overlapping publication activities on North America. This invitation was formally transmitted by letter on 11 July 1997, and the NAFC-FMSG was also invited to the team meeting in Poland. So far there was no response on this invitation.

With the help of Mr. Najera, the team also intensified the dialogue with the DG VI of the European Commission (Ms. M. Lemasson, DG VI.F.II.2) on joint issues in collection of forest fire statistical data (see also topic 3).

2. Evaluation of the results of the First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires and its relevance to the Baltic 21 Action Programme on Forests

The objectives of the First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires are given in ANNEX I. The team leader took the opportunity to express the gratitude to the government of Poland to host the conference and the organizers of the meeting, the Forest Research Institute, Department of Forest Fire Prevention, Warsaw.

Besides the presentation of papers from the Baltic region the conference focus was the contribution of forest fire management to the Baltic 21 Action Programme. The conference participants agreed to develop a concerted regional Baltic Forest Fire Action Plan. This was reflected in the recommendations of the seminar which are given in ANNEX I.

A follow-up process to the conference was agreed, starting with a pan-Baltic forest fire exercise BALTEX FIRE 2000 (the Baltic Exercise in Forest Fire Information and Resources Exchange) to be held in Finland in 2000 (see new terms of reference of the team [para 5]).

A controversial debate was held on the applicability of prescribed fire in vegetation management. The discussion revealed that there was no common and equal state of knowledge in some Baltic countries on fire ecology and the use of prescribed fire in forest and landscape management and in nature conservation. It was recommended that the team of specialists should organize a seminar on fire ecology and prescribed burning in the countries neighbouring the Baltic Sea.

It must be stated at this point, however, that one of the objectives of the First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires originally intended to elaborate on this topic. The absence of those speakers which had been invited to the conference to present papers on the history and use of fire left a gap which must be filled by a follow-up activity.

3. Global Fire Statistics

The UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Seminar “Forest, Fire and Global Change” (Russia, 1996) recommended to introduce an internationally standardized system of collecting and reporting statistical fire data. This recommendation was based on the fact that at present only few countries provide fire statistics which are useful for an international evaluation of the ecological, environmental and economic impacts of fire. Existing fire reporting systems such as the European Decentralized Database on Forest Fires which was created in accordance with the Resolution S3 of the Ministerial Conference at Strasbourg, the ECE/FAO Forest Fire Statistics, or the data collection proposed by the FAO as part of the Global Forest Resources Assessment, are of limited use for evaluating wildland fires at global scale.

While the European Decentralized Database with its “common core” of parameters (“socle minimum”) provides very specific information on the performance of fire services, this common core and most other data collection systems are not specifying the forest and other vegetation types affected by fire.

The team recommended to introduce a data collection system which had been developed for the Global Vegetation Fire Inventory (GFVI) some years ago. The required input parameters will raise the awareness of governments concerned about the multitude of fire types involved in land-uses systems, fire-dependent or fire-tolerant vegetation, and in those forests and other vegetation types in which fire has destructive or destabilizing effects.

In ANNEX II (not enclosed here) a proposed new statistical data reporting form, which was developed from the original GVFI form, is presented. This form should be a base of a consensus agreement, possibly at the FAO fire expert meeting in late 1998.

4. Creation of a Global Fire Monitoring Facility

Following the recommendations of the UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Seminar “Forest, Fire and Global Change” (Russia, 1996) and the ITTO “Guidelines on Fire Management in Tropical Forests” and considering the events of 1997-98 in SE Asia and other parts of the world the team strongly underscored the need to establish a Global Fire Monitoring Facility (GFMF). GFMF would process and publicly provide all information on fire and related to fire which would enable governments, international organizations and agreements, scientists and, through the media, the general public to understand fire and to respond appropriately.

As a consequence of these recommendations the government of Germany in May 1998 indicated to establish a Fire Monitoring Center which could serve as precursor to GFMF. This Fire Monitoring Center has been established as an activity of the IDNDR and is based at the Fire Ecology Research Group in Freiburg (Germany). It will become operational in August 1998. In its first phase it will have a focus on SE Asia and offer a test platform for global cooperation fire-related issues.

5. Future work contents of the Team

Following new terms of reference were agreed:

i. Baltic Focus

As a consequence of the First Baltic Conference on Forest Fires it was agreed to establish a Baltic focus activity. The team members which belong to the countries neighbouring the Baltic Sea, hereinafter referred to as Baltic States, will be members of a Baltic Task Force on Forest Fire. At present the following countries are Task Force members: Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Poland, and Russia. It is still hoped that the remaining Baltic countries (Denmark, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden) will show interest in the work of the Task Force as further activities will develop. It was also agreed that the three following countries will have an observer status because their are either directly connected to the Baltic region or share common problems or developments in fire management:

Belarus, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom

Task Force leader for the next two years will be Mr. Harry Frelander (Finland) who is exploring currently to host BALTEX FIRE 2000 in Finland. BALTEX FIRE 2000 will be the first pan-Baltic exercise in sharing transboundary information and resources in forest fire management.

ii. Fire in radioactively contaminated regions

From the reports from Belarus and Russia it was concluded that it will be necessary to create a focus on fire research and management in those radioactively contaminated regions which are bordering the Baltic region. This activity follows the recommendations of the UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Seminar “Forest, Fire and Global Change” (Russia, 1996).

It is recommended that the Joint Committee follows this proposal by supporting a seminar to be conducted jointly by the Team of Specialists on “Forest Fire” and the Team of Specialists on “Problems in the Forestry and Forest Industry Sector Arising from Radiation Contamination, Particularly from the Chernobyl Disaster”.

iii. Global fire statistics

The team will further continue to work with UN organizations, primarily with FAO, to develop an appropriate global fire data collection system.

iv. Global fire monitoring

Through the Fire Monitoring Center established by German IDNDR funds and based at the research institute of the team leader, the team will continue to develop the concept of a Global Fire Monitoring Facility.

v. Wildland Fire Management Glossary

The revision, update and publication of the FAO Wildland Fire Management Terminology (FAO Forestry Paper 70, 1986) has been stagnating due to limited funding. Based on the progress of the last two years (entering the contents of the current glossary on diskettes, first reviews of the current glossary by correspondents) the team should continue in updating the glossary.

The previous goal of the update and publication procedure should be revised. It is envisaged now to put the glossary on CD-ROM in addition to printing. This would also ease to gradually add more languages.

The FAO or other donors are kindly requested to provide funding for editorial and technical work to finalize the glossary update.


Freiburg, Germany, 22 May 1998 Johann G. Goldammer
Leader, FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire

IFFN No. 19


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