Mediterranean call for urgent integrated action against wildfires



Posted on 08 November 2012  | 

Athens, Lisbon, Madrid and Rome, 08/11/2012 - Over 370,000 ha of ecologically and economically significant forest and agricultural land in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy were severely ravaged by uncontrolled wildfires this past summer. 

Vast areas of important ecosystems, as well as valuable productive lands, such as the national parks of Garajonay in the Canary Islands, Teide National Park and Cabañeros National Park in Central Spain, the Natura Site Serra do Caldeirão in Southern Portugal and the Parco Nazionale del Pollino in Italy and economically important rural areas such as the mastic gum lands (Pistacia lentiscus var chia) in Chios island, Greece, were badly affected by the wildfires.
 
Despite the highly flammable nature of Mediterranean forests, the lack of forest management, human negligence and climate change form a deadly combination that threatens forests and livelihoods.
 
In addition, the forest protection and wildfire control systems primarily in Greece have been badly hit by drastic budgetary cuts. For example, all five helicopters owned by the Greek Fire Brigade were grounded during the 2012 fire season, due to lack of funds. 
 
In spite of the extreme weather events and the current economic crisis, the Spanish Fire Brigade worked effectively and managed to control the majority of wildfires that broke out in the country. However, in the case of the mega - wildfire in Valencia, which claimed one human life and 52,500 hectares, the extraordinary weather conditions rendered control of the fire an impossible task. The material damage caused by the Valencia mega-fire is estimated to reach € 90 million. Unable to meet the huge cost due to the economic crisis, the Spanish Government submitted a request for assistance through the EU’s Solidarity Fund.  
 
WWF, the conservation organisation, calls on Mediterranean governments and the European Union to undertake urgent action for integrated forest conservation. Specifically, WWF’s organizations working in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy state that:
 
  • There is a need for a paradigm shift from last-minute fire suppression to long-term sustainable forest management. Integrated forest management throughout the year is more effective and cost efficient, than the operation of gigantic fire fighting mechanisms needed to suppress wildfires. 
  • Wildfire prevention should be an integral part of sustainable forest management, be coherent with all relevant policies and integrated into adaptation strategies.
  • National forest protection systems require urgent support. 
  • Effective coordination among the different entities dealing with forest policies at the national and regional level is vital.
  • Powerful tools need to be developed urgently in order to raise awareness and educate societies on the values Mediterranean forest ecosystems provide and on wildfire prevention. WWF also calls on all citizens to avoid the use of fire during the seasons of greatest risk of wildfires. 
  • Responsible forest management promoting the sustainable production of forest goods and services is urgently needed, especially in these times of crisis, since synergistic effects of sustainable forest production and nature conservation are beneficial both environmentally and economically. 
"The ongoing financial crisis that looms over Greece has resulted in decimating the already scant funding for forest management and protection. However, the memory of the tragic summer of 2007, when over 270,ooo ha were burnt and over 80 human lives were lost, should teach us that the cost of prevention and integrated management is always a cheaper and more effective solution, compared to the real cost of environmental crises, such as wildfires", remarks Demetres Karavellas, Director of WWF Greece.
 
"Responsible behavior and responsible forest management are the best ways to avoid forest fires. Responsible forest management tools, such as FSC certification, can help foresters to better manage their lands. Good forest management practices will prevent wildfires, assure the conservation of biodiversity and will add an extra value to forest generated products", states Rui Barreira, Forest Officer at WWF MedPO. 
 
"WWF Spain believes that the mega-wildfires produced this year in our country are inheriting a legacy of decades of neglect, lack of coordination and lack of vision in forest policies. This year extreme weather conditions have caused a year of high wildfire risk and the consequences have been devastating. It´s necessary to reverse this situation by developing management tools and promoting forest products markets, as a new engine for sustainable economic and ecological model", remarks Enrique Segovia, Conservation Director of WWF Spain.
 
"The exceptional weather conditions may have contributed to increase the number of fires, but it must be said that in Italy the first fire cause is still represented by man behaviour. Official data confirms that one out of four fires is caused by pyromaniacs and criminals, while one out of three fires is caused by people who undervalue the possible risks. Fire prevention should remain on top of political agenda throughout the year and fire suppression should be assured by adequate tools and funding, in spite of those who would cut them down, in the name of the economic crisis", remarks Massimiliano Rocco, Head of TRAFFIC, Species and Forest office of WWF Italy. 
 
For more information, please contact: 
- Demetres Karavellas, Director, WWF Greece, d.karavellas@wwf.gr, 0030 69 824 71 721
 
- Ângela Morgado, Coordinator, WWF MedPO in Portugal, amorgado@wwfmedpo.org, 0035 19 184 28 829
 
- Enrique Segovia, Conservation Director, WWF Spain, esegovia@wwf.es, 0034 91 354 05 78 
 
- Massimiliano Rocco, Head of TRAFFIC, Species and Forest office, WWF Italy, m.rocco@wwf.it, 0039 06 844 97 357
 
Notes to editors
1. Forests are among the most important ecosystems of the Mediterranean: very rich in biodiversity (some 25,000 plant species of which 50% are endemic), and play a key role in ensuring resilience and adaptability to climate change of the ecosystems and ecosystem services contributing to human livelihoods across the different countries. Every year nearly 400,000 ha of land are lost to wildfires. Extended wildfires are among the most direct consequences of climate change affecting Mediterranean forests. Climate change impacts combined with rapid and abrupt land-use changes, abandonment of rural areas, poor or outright lack of management of forests, no wildfire prevention awareness and the deficiencies in the national forest protection and fire suppression systems enhance the increase of frequency, intensity and extent of fires. 
 
2. WWF recognizes that Mediterranean forest ecosystems provide unique biodiversity, ecological functions and cultural values and has set as a goal to maintain, restore, secure and account them for providing ecosystem services for present and future generations. 
Over 370,000 ha of ecologically and economically significant forest and agricultural land in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy were severely ravaged by uncontrolled wildfires this past summer.
© WWF-Canon / Jorge BARTOLOME Enlarge

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