Neglected forest lands of Portugal and Spain at the mercy of wildfires

Portugal has lost close to 48,000 hectares of forest land, the third highest statistic across Europe, topped only by Romania.

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With climate change making wildfires more and more likely, experts have warned Portuguese ad Spain about managing their forests in a better way to protect vast blankets of their lands from being burned due to such wildfires every year. As the wildfire spread across significant parts of Europe, Spain lost close to 200,000 hectares of forest land this year, more than any other country or region in Europe.

On the other hand, Portugal has lost close to 48,000 hectares of forest land, the third highest statistic across Europe, topped only by Romania.

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According to Monica Parrilla, a forest campaign manager with Greenpeace Spain, the Spread of wildfire depends on weather, vegetation and topography of the lands. She added that the prevailing conditions were ideal for fires, referring to the scorching heat, strong winds and drought-like conditions faced by Portugal and Spain.

Parilla added that in the present conditions, the only factor that humans can control is vegetation. If the foliage is dry, it feeds the fire. The problem of flammable vegetation needs to be solved.

Experts have further stated the necessity for the forest brush to be removed, either manually or with controlled burns. Along with that, there is a need for more firebreaks. (Firebreaks are barriers of open land put in place to keep a forest fire in check.)

According to the statistics from the world bank, 36% of Portugal and Spain’s landmass is covered in forests, which are monocultures of eucalyptus and pine trees, which is an absolute favourite of the paper industry. According to figures from the Institute for Nature and Forest Conservation, 83% of the land ravaged by the wildfires in the years 2011-2020 were eucalyptus and pine trees.

Still, for the woods to be more fire resistant, the forests need to be comprised of a wider variety of trees. Ecologists in Portugal have suggested the planting of more indigenous species of trees like chestnuts, cork and oak for better fire resistance.

The experts also suggested that financial incentives be provided to the small-scale producers so that they can wait a few years for the more resistant variety of trees to become profitable and to dissuade them from turning to eucalyptus for monetary benefits.

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