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Neglected forests are at the mercy of forest fires in Spain and Portugal

#Neglected #forests #mercy #forest #fires #Spain #Portugal

As climate change makes devastating wildfires more likely, experts are warning Spain and Portugal they must manage their forests better to prevent vast tracts of land from being set ablaze each year.

Nearly 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of forest have been lost to fires in Spain so far this year, more than any other country in Europe, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.

Portugal has lost just over 48,000 hectares to blazes, the third-highest amount in Europe, surpassed only by Romania.

The spread of wildfires depends on the weather, the type of vegetation and the topography of the country, said Monica Parrilla, a forest campaign manager at Greenpeace Spain.

“Right now we have the ideal context for very intense fires,” she added, referring to the scorching temperatures, strong winds and drought conditions that Spain and Portugal have faced.

And the only factor humans have some control over is vegetation, Parrilla added.

“When it is dry, it feeds the fire. We need to focus on this combustible vegetation,” she said.

Parrilla called for clearing of scrub in forests either manually or through controlled burning and more firebreaks – an open country barrier designed to contain wildfire.

– Fireproof Trees –

To be more “fireproof,” forests would also need to be made up of a greater variety of trees, she said.

Most of the forested areas in Spain and Portugal consist of monocultures of eucalyptus and pine trees, which are favored by the paper industry but are highly flammable.

According to World Bank data, around 36 percent of the landmass of Portugal and Spain is covered by forest.

And about a quarter of Portugal’s forests are eucalyptus, a fast-growing tree native to Australia.

A full 83 percent of the land devastated by flames in Portugal between 2011 and 2020 consisted of pine and eucalyptus trees, according to figures from the Institute for Nature and Forest Conservation.

Ecologists in Portugal are calling for the planting of more native tree species that are more fire tolerant, such as chestnut, cork and oak trees.

Small producers should be given financial incentives “so they can wait several years for these more resilient trees to become profitable,” said Marta Leandro, vice president of Quercus, Portugal’s largest environmental group.

This would prevent them from “systematically switching to eucalyptus,” she added.

– Rural Exodus –

The dwindling rural population also contributes to forest neglect and increases the risk of fire.

Many fields are abandoned and the undergrowth is overgrown because the landowners are too old.

There are also fewer farm animals like goats that help clear the land of scrub.

The biggest wildfires in Spain have been in the most sparsely populated regions, such as Extremadura in the west and the northwestern region of Castile and León.

Spain’s Environment Minister Teresa Ribera on Thursday stressed the importance of rural residents, saying they are “the true custodians of the land who are on the front lines of preventing fires all year round”.

Similar views have been voiced by politicians in neighboring Portugal, where wildfires killed over 100 people in 2017.

Portuguese Interior Minister José Luis Carneiro said on Tuesday that “strengthening rural development” was the key to “fighting the fire”.

While goats and sheep are already being used to clear scrub in some parts of Spain and Portugal, ecologists are calling for the expansion of extensive livestock farming.

“Investing in prevention” is not an expense but an “investment in the future” as the cost of putting out a wildfire is “far greater,” said Loures Hernandez of WWF Spain.

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#Neglected #forests #mercy #forest #fires #Spain #Portugal

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