A press conference was held at the opening of the Baltic Exercise for Fire Information and Resources Exchange (BALTEX FIRE 2000), in Kuopio, Finland, on 5 June 2000. Besides the general objectives of BALTEX FIRE 2000 the GFMC, co-sponsor of BALTEX FIRE 2000, issued the following press release.
Introduction of BALTEX FIRE 2000
BALTEX FIRE 2000 (Baltic Exercise for Fire Information and Resources Exchange) is co-sponsored by:
Joint ECE/FAO/ILO Committee on Forest Technology, Management and Training
The UN ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire (which operates under the Joint Committee and represents the Joint Committee at this meeting)
The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC)
Director of the GFMC, Dr.Johann G.Goldammer, is also leader of the UN ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire. He is responsible for this press release which he issues on behalf of the Global Fire Monitoring Center and the UN ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire.
Preface: Definition of “Baltic Region”
The Baltic initiative includes all countries bordering the Baltic Sea. The Russian Federation is part of the Baltic Fire Initiative because it shares a long borderline with other Baltic States and owns a hinterland which represents the largest and most fire-prone forest of the world. The majority of problems concerning the expected increase of the regional fire problem due to climate change therefore is primarily in the Russian Federation. However, despite the smaller magnitude of the forest fire problems in the Western European part of the Baltic Region, these fires are also a serious threat to the environment and economies of the smaller countries. The Baltic forest fire initiative explicitly aims to work together with all Baltic nations.
Forest fires in the region of the Baltic Basin are closely linked to modern human activities, e.g. industrialization, socio-economics (land-use change), military installations and activities (currently becoming less significant), problems arising at the forest/residential interface, and tourism. The wildfires severely threaten the valuable forest resources of the region. Some fire events cause new problems, such as fires in industrially polluted forests or in radioactively contaminated vegetation.
On the other hand, recognizing the role of historic natural and human-caused fires and other land-use tools in the formation of the cultural landscapes of the Baltic Basin, new concepts are arising to include fire as management tool in those landscapes, including nature conservation areas, which require periodic disturbances in order to maintain or restore biodiversity (e.g., heathlands, sub-climax forest formations).
The nations bordering the Baltic Basin are now showing increasing interest to promote fire management systems in forests and open landscapes which need to be based on advanced fire science and technology development. The need has been recognized to create a forum in the Central-Northern European region in which the fire problems are entirely different from the Mediterranean region.
The UN-ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire is promoting a cooperative approach of the nations bordering the Baltic Basin to share fire management expertise and resources.
At the First International Baltic Conference on Forest Fire (Poland 1998) the Team has proposed to set up pan-Baltic programs and exchange mechanisms encompassing fire research, fire management training, the use of prescribed fire (in forestry, nature conservation, and landscape management), and mutual fire emergency assistance.
As a consequence, the UN Fire Team established a Baltic Forest Fire Task Force which is chaired by Finland (Mr. Harry Frelander). Finland is therefore host of BALTEX FIRE 2000.
The Larger Context: The Baltic 21 Action Programme
The Baltic 21 Action Programme is an initiative for the application of the Agenda 21 in the Baltic Sea Region. It includes the Baltic 21 Action Programme on Forests. This programme is in line with:
The UN Conference on Environment and Development UNCED (Rio 1992): Forest Principles and the Agenda 21, Chapter 11 on “Combating Deforestation and other”;
The Intergovernmental Panel on Forest (IPF, 1995-1997); and
The Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe (Strasbourg 1990, Helsinki 1993, Lisbon 1998).
The Baltic Forest Fire Initiative aims to represent a contribution to the Baltic 21 Action Programme.
Support of the United Nations Programmes and Policies
BALTEX FIRE 2000 through the GFMC and the ECE/FAO Fire Team works closely with and supports the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) which is a follow-up arrangement of the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) during the 1990s.
At BALTEX FIRE 2000 a plan will be further developed to establish an international group of forest fire specialists which will form an advisory group under the UN International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG). This group will support the United Nations in coordinating and implementing international response to forest and other wildland fire emergencies worldwide.
Concerns about the future
The GFMC and the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire are concerned about the future of forest fire protection problems in the central-eastern parts of the region. The expected consequences of regional climate change are likely to result in reduced precipitation and more frequent extreme droughts during summers, especially on the continental parts of Germany, Poland, and the Russian Federation, including the neighbouring countries Belarus and Ukraine. These circumstance require increased preparedness at national and international (border-crossing) levels. The increase of forest fire risk will require strengthening of national fire management capabilities, including early warning of fire danger, advanced methods of fire detection from ground, the air and from space, and fire suppression.
The GFMC and the ECE/FAO/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire are concerned about the weakening of fire disaster response structures in some countries.
For example, the recent decision by the government of Russia to abolish the State Forest Committee (Federal Forest Service) and to replace it by a department within the Ministry for Natural Resources may affect the overall capability of the government to control the forests belonging to the State Forest Fund and to effectively protect the forests against fire. The government of Russia is urged to use the opportunity of reorganising the state administration and strengthen the federal capabilities in forest fire protection by maintaining and even improving the responsibilities of the new forestry administration.