Forest Fires are a catastrophe in European countries: But how are they affecting family forests?

Forest Fires are a catastrophe in Europeancountries: But how are they affecting family forests?

31 July 2007

published by

Confederation of EuropeanForest Owners (CEPF): —  Inseveral parts of southern and eastern Europe, hundreds of forest fires have beenreported. Summer wildfires are usual in Greece and this year more than 400 havealready been reported, a scorching of 4,500 hectares of dense forest resultingin the deaths of hundreds of animals. In Italy, summer wildfires are also common.This summer, Calabria and Sicily were among the worst hit areas. On the FrenchRiviera, fire-fighters have managed to contain the flames but more than 2 000hectares of pine forests were nevertheless ravaged. In Spain, fires raged overpine forests on the island of Gran Canaria and Tenerife scorching 35,000hectares.

Civil protection authorities have said that most of the fires were due to negligence, but added that arson was suspected in a number of cases. In Greece and Italy, officials have blamed some fires on arson motivated by attempts to clear land for development. In Spain, there are also suspicions of arson. But soaring temperatures from the region’s second heat wave in as many months has also contributed to the fires by leaving vast swathes of the region parched. The forest fires are affected by the degree of management that forests receive, and in this respect Family Forest Owners can play an instrumental role in forest fire prevention. When sylviculture is neglected, there is a danger of highly inflammable fuels building up within the forest.Private forest owners are the main people affected by forest fires and natural catastrophes, often resulting in considerable loss of income. The affected wood loses its value as timber, and there are the extra costs of the harvesting of burnt trees to be considered. Once urgent restoration works are completed, there is also the question of the rehabilitation of damaged areas. To all this, one must also add the cost of reforestation. By law, for example the legislation existing in Portugal and in Spain, reforestation is mandatory. It can also be essential for reasons of soil stability or desertification.

Inthe south of Europe private forest property is divided between more than twomillion proprietors who handle 70% of the forest space. In most regions ofsouthern Europe one in four families owns forest property. Family forests are apowerful forest chain that generates a very significant part of revenue in thissouthern region. Private foresters utilise their resources to plan and toexecute infrastructures – routes, water tanks – and they manage the forest tohelp prevent forest fires. These responsibilities are not widely known about,and therefore are not valued by society.

The official information on forest fires from member states and the EuropeanCommission do not have or cannot provide data relative to the type and number ofprivate forest owners whose forests have been affected by fires; or thecharacteristics of these forests. The estimation of value of forest productsdestroyed or the depreciation of burned wood is equally not known. There isequally no data estimating – the costs of restoration of forests, the lossesfrom destroyed facilities or damaged infrastructures. This lack of datademonstrates a neglect of the human and socioeconomic component of forest fires.

The full effects of fires on private forests are not yet known. It is urgent toincorporate all aspects of forest fires into the official data especially indata relative to affected private forest owners (e.g. at the European ForestFire Information System – EFFIS). At the same time forests must have sufficientinfrastructures of fire defence and sufficient means to cover related expenses.It should be seen as a European and national policy priority to create astrategy for forest fire defence, based on prevention.

Most countries have a highly professional forest fire service. Governmentsdedicate important resources to fire extinction but they must also allocateresources to preventive measures, and consider that one does not replace theother.

The forestry sector needs to improve and diversify their industry to increasethe income of private forest owners to be able to guarantee forest biodiversityand sustainability. Profitability of biomass extraction for the owner is key toreducing forest fires. The present European and national regulations do notoffer measures adapted for catastrophes or prevention of fire in the forests ofsouthern Europe. Family Forest Owners in the South are committed to reducingForest Fires, but need the right political support in order to do so. 

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