Burning issue facing Irish forests

Burning issue facing Irish forests

13 February 2017

published by https://www.irishexaminer.com

IRELAND –  Ray Ryan reports on efforts to plan ahead for the risk of forest fires, which have caused huge damage to Irish woodlands in recent years.

It is that time of the year again, when forests and woodland are most vulnerable to fires because ground vegetation is dead following winter.

Prolonged dry periods and seasonal high winds help create ideal conditions for wildfire to spread quickly through highly-flammable moorland undergrowth. Woodland located in the path of such fires can easily be destroyed.

Young trees are particularly at risk because of their small size and their proximity to flammable vegetation. A carelessly discarded cigarette or match, illegal land burning connected with agriculture, or even a spark from a picnic fire can cause devastation.

Each year, firemen, forestry workers, civilians, gardaí, and sometimes soldiers are deployed for long periods in bringing outbreaks under control.

They generally use shovels, beaters, and even tree branches in preventing flames from spreading across fire breaks in the forests, where roads and undergrowth are also hosed with water.

Helicopters have been used in more modern times to monitor the extent of serious fires from the air and to water-bomb particularly devastating outbreaks, which can put homes, livelihoods, and critical infrastructure at risk.

This is done through the use of a ‘bambi-bucket’ filled with 80-100 gallons of water slung from the helicopter and then dumped on the spreading fire line below. All of these factors add up to the need for great caution by forest owners, turf cutters, recreational visitors to plantations, and land owners, as well as by the general public.

Most wildfires occur as a result of illegal land burning connected with agriculture. Where damage to woodland and other property occurs, those responsible may be liable under the law for very heavy penalties, including imprisonment upon conviction.

The diversion of emergency services to these outbreaks can also have grave consequences in the event of these being required for more life threatening incidents elsewhere.

Many people will be visiting forests over the coming weeks and months for relaxation, recreation and a sense of tranquility. Coillte alone has more than 2,000km of waymarked trails, 180 recreation sites and 12 forest parks, attracting 18m visits annually.

A total of 731,650 hectares or 10.5% of the total land area of Ireland is under forestry, which employs more than 12,000 people and is worth €2.3bn per annum to the economy. It is clearly an asset worth protecting from destructive fires.

A number of major wildfires have occurred in recent years which destroyed or damaged property, including farmland and forests. Landowners are always urged by government departments and other agencies at this time of the year to co-operate in fire prevention efforts.

It is particularly important to report unattended or dangerous fires to the emergency services without delay, before they can become larger incidents that are more difficult to deal with. After a spell of dry weather, a wildfire risk can quickly develop in all areas where flammable vegetation such as grasses, gorse, and heather are present, especially in proximity to forests and other assets.

Land found to have been burned during the specified closed season would be considered automatically ineligible under various support schemes.

Any signs of suspicious activity should be reported to the gardaí, while any uncontrolled or unattended fires should be reported immediately to the Fire and Emergency Services.

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin asked Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys in the Dáil earlier this month what the position was regarding extending the spring gorse burning season.

He also sought her views on the prospect of spring wildfires, such as those that have threatened homes and native oak forests in Killarney National Park and many other areas in recent years, and to outline her plans for 2017 to reduce this risk.

Ms Humphreys explained that Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976, as amended, has prohibited the cutting, grubbing, the burning or destruction of vegetation, with certain strict exemptions, from March 1 to August 31.

Following a review of the section, which involved consideration of submissions from interested parties, she announced proposals in December 2016 to introduce legislation to allow for managed hedge cutting and burning at certain times within the existing closed period on a pilot two-year basis.

The legislation required to allow for these pilot measures is included in the Heritage Bill 2016, which was published in January 2016. The Bill is currently at Committee Stage in Seanad Éireann. In the meantime, the existing provisions relating to Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts remain in force.

Ms Humphreys said huge environmental damage is caused by wildfires. This issue has become more acute in recent years, as seen by the spate of fires in various parts of the country.

“The main source of such wildfires is thought to be the deliberate starting of fi res without concern for the consequences,” said Ms Humphreys. “My department is one of a number of agencies represented on the Inter-Agency Gorse Fire Group that explores issues surrounding such fires.

“An Garda Síochána is also represented on the Group. My Department co-operates fully with Garda investigations and any other investigations that may be initiated by other statutory bodies.”

Ms Humphreys said it can be difficult to provide a visible presence on the ground to discourage and prevent unauthorised burning in the countryside.

Attempting to identify the culprits — those who deliberately set fires in open areas — can also be difficult.

Meanwhile, aside from such malicious activities, one of the main challenges is to encourage members of the public, (including landowners, farmers, and recreational users of publicly accessible land), to act responsibly at all times.

Ms Humphreys urged them to be mindful of their own safety, the safety of others, the need to protect property, both publicly owned and privately owned, as well as to appreciate the value of Ireland’s natural heritage, particularly in national parks, nature reserves and designated sites.

SINGAPORE, Feb 9 — People in Singapore are willing to cough up nearly 1 per cent of their annual income in order to guarantee the absence of transboundary haze for a year, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found.

In total, they are willing to pay US$643.5 million (RM2.8 billion) a year — large enough to make a “substantive impact on the problem” if used for land conservation and restoration, the researchers state in a paper published in February’s issue of the journal,Environmental Research Letters.

The paper’s authors, Yuan Lin, Lahiru Wijedasa and Dr Ryan Chisholm, wrote: “Our results indicate that Singaporeans experience sufficiently negative impacts of air pollution (in) their day-to-day life, or personal health during haze periods, that they are willing to trade off personal financial gain for improvements in air quality.”

Transboundary haze is a long-standing problem in the South-east Asian region, largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland as well as companies and farmers in Indonesia using fire to clear land.

Singapore experienced its worst haze episode in 2015 from September to November, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels.

Since then, Indonesia has renewed efforts to prevent fires, although a state of emergency was declared last month in Riau province over forest and land fires.

The economic impact of haze pollution here has been estimated using cost-benefit analysis before, but the researchers said that the figures could be an under-estimate because they exclude impacts — such as non-hospitalisable health effects — that are difficult to infer from economic data.

The 2015 haze episode was estimated to have cost Singapore S$700 million (RM2.19 billion) in losses.

The NUS researchers surveyed 390 people in public areas from November 2015 to February 2016 on their willingness to pay, should the Singapore Government be able to guarantee good air quality year-round.

The participants, from various age and income groups, were given options ranging from 0.05 per cent to 5 per cent of their annual income, after they indicated if they were willing to support such a haze mitigation fund.

The average person’s willingness to pay was an estimated 0.97 per cent of his/her annual income.

However, about three in 10 respondents were unwilling to pay even the minimum option of 0.05 per cent of their annual income.

Wijedasa said that one of the solutions proposed for the haze problem is payments for ecosystem services.

“This could take the form of richer nations aiding better land management and restoration by making regular payments.

“Indonesia has estimated that it needs US$2.1 billion to help restore two million hectares of peatland in (the country). They have currently only received US$50 million from Norway and US$17 million from the United States.

“Could this shortfall be filled by Singapore (and other countries in the region)?”

Tan Yi Han, who is not involved in the study and is co-founder of non-governmental organisation People’s Movement to Stop Haze, said that the findings are helpful and “should motivate the Singapore Government to spend on measures to prevent haze, such as a subsidy on certified sustainable palm oil, as well as aid to support peat restoration and protection efforts in Indonesia”.

His organisation’s survey last year found that more than nine in 10 respondents were willing to pay more for certified sustainable products to help mitigate the haze, Tan said.

Most were willing to pay 5 to 10 per cent more.

Consumers game to chip in to avoid any haze include Steven Lim, who is in his 40s and self-employed. How much he is willing to contribute would depend on the amount needed to make an impact.

“Maybe S$10? Multiplied by many individuals, it would be a lot,” Lim said, preferring that the money goes to the Indonesian government.

– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/money/article/singaporeans-willing-to-fork-out-1pc-of-income-to-ensure-no-more-haze#sthash.CRhWHQHj.dpuf

El capitán del primer batallón de la Unidad Militar de Emergencias (UME), Emilio Arias, ha descrito como “dantescos” los efectos del incendio forestal en el paraje natural de la Sierra de Gata (Cáceres), aunque ha sido optimista en cuanto a su extinción al darse una situación “bastante favorable” en estos momentos. Fotogalería ALCALDE 11 Fotos La Sierra de Gata, tras el incendio “El incendio se dio por estabilizado y ahora mismo sólo hay pequeños focos que se reactivan por lo que la situación es bastante adecuada para intentar extinguir el fuego”, ha explicado Arias en una entrevista en COPE. Arias ha descrito como “dantesco” el efecto del fuego en una zona “donde el terreno era precioso”. El mando único del Plan Director del Infoex decidía este lunes mantener activo el Nivel 2 de peligrosidad en el incendio de Sierra de Gata ante las previsiones de viento y altas temperaturas. Las mismas predicciones indican que habrá una mejoría a partir de las primeras horas de la noche del lunes, según ha informado la Junta de Extremadura. Más de 200 efectivos se mantienen en la zona. Intentar llegar a la normalidad es “un tanto difícil”, y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños El incendio declarado el pasado jueves ha arrasado unas 7.500 hectáreas de alto valor agrícola, ambiental y paisajístico, de ahí que el Gobierno regional haya iniciado ya la evaluación de los daños y comenzado a preparar la recuperación de la zona. El director general de Medio Ambiente, Pedro Muñoz, ha afirmado que el incendio ha causado un “desastre” desde el punto de vista medioambiental ya que ha arrasado miles de hectáreas de pinar, olivar y pastos, además de haber producido cuantiosos daños materiales en algunas poblaciones. La asociación conservacionista SEO/Birdlife ha denunciado que el incendio afectó gravemente a especies amenazadas y a espacios protegidos de la Red Natura 2000, incluidos robledales, madroñales y castañares centenarios. Todo el área afectada es una zona ornitólogica de interés mundial. Por su parte, el alcalde de la localidad cacereña de Hoyos, Óscar Antúnez, ha alabado la participación ciudadana en el municipio para ayudar a los operarios del plan Infoex como “lo bonito dentro de la tragedia” y ha añadido que el “sentir general” de los ciudadanos de Sierra de Gata es de “frustración e indignación” tras el incendio forestal. El alcalde ha señalado que ha podido hablar con los vecinos de la localidad y que los “más afectados” son los que han perdido fincas o casas de campo, sobre todo una familia que ha perdido su domicilio de vacaciones habitual, que era una casa “recién reformada”. Asimismo, Óscar Antúnez ha indicado que intentar llegar a la normalidad es “un tanto difícil”, y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños, tanto la Mancomunidad de Municipios de Sierra de Gata como la Junta de Extremadura, para ver qué ayudas se pueden proporcionar y de qué modo, además de cuáles serán los medios disponibles. Por último, el primer edil de Hoyos ha explicado que los vecinos, “más allá de la lamentación”, deben intentar hacer “una vida normal”, aunque ha considerado que es muy difícil “dado el paisaje que tenemos”, ya que casi el 90% del término municipal está calcinado, ha indicado.

Ver más en: http://www.20minutos.es/noticia/2532392/0/fuego/gata/dantesco/#xtor=AD-15&xts=467263

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