WWF asks for joint efforts to prevent 'super fires' in the Iberian Peninsula
The report, The Powder Keg of the Northwest, emphasizes that both countries face the same emergency due to this new wave of large forest fires, which are characterized by volatile behaviour and often occur out of the traditional wildlife season. In 2017, the burned area in Portugal was 440,000 hectares, a fivefold increase from the average of the last decade. Also last year, the number of large forest fires in Spain increased 200% from the average of the decade.
Portugal is the most affected country in Europe when it comes to forest fires. Over the last 30 years, it became the country with the highest rate of occurrence by area and where the fires were larger. On average, there are 35% more fires than in Spain, and the burned area is 20% larger, although the agroforestry area is 80% smaller. In fact, Portugal is the first country in Europe and the fourth in the world with the largest forest mass lost in the 21st century, due in large part to the forest fires that devastate the country every summer.
The Iberian northwest (central and northern Portugal, Galicia and Asturias in Spain) is by far the area of the Peninsula that is most harassed by forest fires. Last year in Portugal, out of the 16,981 requests for firefighters registered up to October 31, 94% occurred north of the Tagus river. Often, districts such as Porto, Braga, Viana do Castelo, Vila Real and Viseu, as well as Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Leon burn in devastating waves that spawn from a lethal combination of factors: a lush vegetation, a climate that’s becoming increasingly drier and hotter during the summer, large rural and forest abandonment and the widespread use of fire as a tool to open pastures for cattle or to eliminate vegetation.
WWF reiterates that the terrible fires of 2017 have to be a turning point for both governments in the fight against wildfires. Climate change has brought new rules, with “super fires” that cannot be handled with just more firefighting means.
The organization proposes a long-term fire prevention action plan, to be coordinated by the Portuguese and Spanish governments and implemented jointly with the regional administrations involved. WWF's proposal is based on three pillars: a strategic prevention of fire an Iberian level that revitalizes the territory and makes it less vulnerable; measures against impunity, since less than 10% of perpetrators are identified; and effective action on the issue of climate change.
Key to this prevention strategy is planning and intervention in abandoned monoculture forests, promoting their replacement by native forests, which are more diverse and resistant to fire. It is estimated that about 40% of the eucalyptus area of Galicia is abandoned.
"This is the first report that analyzes the peninsula as a whole with regard to forest fires," says Ângela Morgado, Executive Director of ANP|WWF. "We believe it’s time for both governments to design a strategy, make a joint plan for what is, above all, a social, environmental and economic emergency. "
"Portugal and Spain will be hell year after year if we do not change our old recipes against fire," says WWF Spain general secretary Juan Carlos del Olmo. "Climate change has brought new rules and that is why we are asking for this new Iberian approach to forest fires, and only by working together will we rise to the challenge."
For more information, please contact:
Rita Rodrigues – ANP in association with WWF in Portugal | Tel: +351 962911072
Guillermo Prudencio – WWF Spain | Tel: +34 91 354 05 78/ +34 608 006 976