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Forest management and biomass markets needed to help prevent forest fires

The recent catastrophic forest fires in Portugal and Spain show the importance of forest fire management in Europe. Forest owners and managers need to be supported in their efforts to ensure the effective implementation of preventative actions against forest fires. This includes promoting bioenergy demand say the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR), Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF) and European Farmers and European Agri-Cooperatives (Copa and Cogeca) in a joint statement.

Forest management is needed to reduce the risk of forest fires. Pine forest in Sardinia (photo courtesy CEPF).

Forest fires are a major problem, especially in southern European countries. Climate conditions and changes in land use have made southern Europe’s forests increasingly more vulnerable to fire. As climate change is expected to increase the likelihood of fires, the risk of forest fires is predicted to increase if no major actions are undertaken.

Based on the European Forest Fire Information System, the annual burned area in southern European countries has reached almost 3 000 km², an area larger than Luxembourg, during the last decade.

The value of forest management in the prevention of forest fires must be better recognised. Having no management is not a solution if we want to effectively combat forest fires, said Piotr Borkowski, Executive Director of the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR), whose members are often involved not only in forest fire prevention but also in firefighting on the ground.

Forest management reduces risk

The rural exodus observed in some parts of Europe correlates with an increased risk of forest fires. The abandonment of forestry activities and changes in land use has resulted in the increased accumulation of small-sized dry wood in forests, making them more vulnerable to fire.

Forest fires are one of the biggest challenges faced by forest owners and managers today. If we look at Portugal, for example, most forests belong to many very small-scale family owners who do not have the necessary resources to take preventive actions, said Emma Berglund, Secretary-General of the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF).

Today, it is evident that the role of sustainable forest management (SFM) is of increasing importance for preventing forest fires. Establishing inventories of high-risk areas, developing forest infrastructure and timely performed forest tending practices are only a few, among many examples, of the ways in which forest managers and owners can provide much needed and precious know-how.

Timely thinning operations strengthen the resistance of forest stands against fires and other damage while providing wood for energy or industrial processing. However, the trio point out that in many parts of Europe, insufficient market demand for small-sized assortments is an obstacle to performing these tending operations.

Forest owners and managers, therefore, encourage European policy makers, who are currently debating on the EU climate and bioenergy policies after 2020, to promote additional market demand for low-quality wood for bioenergy in order to support forest tending and thereby decrease the vulnerability of forests to forest fires.

As key stakeholders in the European forestry and forest-based sector, EUSTAFOR, CEPF and Copa and Cogeca strongly support further actions by the EU and the Member States to further develop forest fire monitoring and prevention measures. Ways to strengthen collaboration and experience sharing in the pan-European region – not only in the field of fire prevention but also for other natural hazards – should be further explored through FOREST EUROPE, UNECE/FAO and with other international partners.

In addition to causing human and economic losses, forest fires result in the release of huge stores of carbon into the atmosphere. Through its policies, the EU should support establishing efficient forest fire monitoring systems and incentivize forest owners and managers to implement preventive measures which will decrease the risk of forest fires, ended Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General of Copa and Cogeca.

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