Forest fires in Spain. SDG15 (II)
“Life of terrestrial ecosystems.”
Francisco Javier Plaza Martín
This second section aims to raise awareness of where the problem of forest fires should be, avoiding always falling into the same error, which is basically to focus only on mere extinction.
As explained in the first part, the levels of biomass use in its various forms have decreased significantly, or even extensive forest massifs have been abandoned, and fuel has increased exponentially. On the other hand, many forest systems are outside their optimal development range. Large forest fires of enormous dimensions, which are the fewest in the total numerical count, but burn almost the entire surface yearly, are beyond any extinguishing device’s capacity—the firefighting paradox.
Forest fires can be classified by generations, considering how the fire behaves, the terrain in which it develops, its intensity, and its capacity. Sixth-generation fires are challenging to extinguish since they release so much energy that they can modify the environment’s meteorological conditions, being unpredictable and even causing firestorms.
The primary causes that feed large forest fires are the increase and continuity of fuel linked to the abandonment of prior activity, as discussed in the first part, with depopulation as the underlying cause, and all this in a global context of climate change.
Climate change means that vegetation is predisposed on more occasions to be available to burn and increase the chances of circumstances that produce a large forest fire and feedback. But it is also unacceptable to attribute large forest fires to climate change because that is to avoid responsibility, despite the efforts made by society to slow the progression of climate change and its consequences are very necessary and praiseworthy. It is like placing blame on something ethereal. We can act in the territory, in the ecosystems, and this is where we are failing.
A fundamental aspect is to focus on prevention. In Spain, this aspect has been left in the background, allocating most of the resources to mere extinction, taking resources away from prevention and management of the territory and forests. This is a partial response to a problem and is far from the solution we tried to explain. Prevention is less visible, but economically more profitable. Invest in green and not in black.
On the other hand, the measures of urban societies are obsessed with “conserving” forests and protected areas, condemning them as static, as if they were a painting and put in a freezer, through static and even segregationist policies of the uses that have shaped these socio-cultural ecosystems. This goes so far that the regulations prevent the most essential preventive measures from being taken. Nothing could be further from the truth; the fire will do its job.
But we must go further. More than classical prevention, active and passive, such as partially eliminating fuel, surveillance, establishing firebreak areas, basic infrastructures, awareness measures, information, planning, or perimeters in the urban-forestall interface around population centers, are required. There needs to be more to tackle the problem.
The key is to generate an economy around natural resources, to generate appreciation and attachment to forests and the land, and to make it the main preventive activity as it was in the past. It is essential to revitalize primary activity. We no longer have the traditional agrarian system, nor those people who lived it, but there is current and future technology that can make it possible through public-private collaboration.
Promote extensive livestock farming that gives us quality products, recover the “good fire” as an ancestral practice through prescribed burning and low-intensity technical fire to promote open spaces and pastures, certain hunting activities, some mountain agriculture, and of course, most basic, the care of forests through forestry and forest management. All this provides us with quality products, mobilizes renewable, regenerative, biodegradable natural resources, energy, and biomaterials, and maintains the territories and people linked to the land and its resources as the custodians of a legacy that benefits society as a whole.
Above left. Forestry to grade densities to obtain timber. Above right. Result of the graduation of thicknesses for ecosystems with less combustibility. Sheep herd that maintains pastures of great ecological value and provides meat, milk, and wool. They maintain dehesas and mosaic systems behaving as actual firebreak areas. Bottom left. Vineyard in the Ribeira Sacra. Below right. They are obtaining firewood to improve oak groves and maintenance of pastures and meadows for extensive cattle grazing.
Without these activities, there will be no “life of terrestrial ecosystems” We will not be able to avoid desertification, protect biodiversity, carry out sustainable forest management, restore ecosystems, nor generate spaces and opportunities for firefighting devices in the face of large forest fires, much fewer safety conditions for their components and the population.
As long as these measures beyond mere extinction are not adopted, we will continue to hear, visualize and become accustomed to the events section of all the news media, another mountain, another forest, another mountain range, another protected area burns… for another year.
Such a complex problem cannot be solved with simple solutions. Maintain the optimal and adequate muscle of extinction and increase its training, but do not invest more in mere cessation, which is the easy solution. It could be more convenient and may even be counterproductive. It is necessary to increase investment in classical prevention. The longer, more correct, but more economical and safer way is to tackle the underlying causes. Going further through a bioeconomy around natural resources, maintaining diversified, resilient landscapes, professionals in the territory, and economic activity around primary renewable natural resources with many synergies and benefits for society and nature.
Francisco Javier Plaza Martín