Land management and forest fires
Whenever there are forest fires, the debate begins on how to prevent these catastrophes and, once again, we are aware that it is a complicated situation that needs a serious and forceful approach. A rethinking of the territory’s management model.
Unfortunately, forest fires are in the news every summer. In 2021, they have already burnt more than 2,000 hectares and the risk of fires is still very real, given that the abandonment of crops, poor forest management and climate change complicate the conservation of the landscape we have.
Catalonia has a Mediterranean climate, and this means hot, dry summers, a situation that is worsening nowadays with the effects of climate change. According to the Servei Meteorològic de Catalunya (SMC), the climate in the middle of the century could have almost thirty more summer days and the temperature in our country could rise by an average of three degrees Celsius.
Economy and landscape
Marc Garfella, a technical forestry engineer from Bosquerols, a cooperative dedicated to forest management and planning, explains that the current situation is partly due to the abandonment of cultivated fields (in the 1950s forests occupied 35% of Catalonia, and today they occupy 70%), climate change, and the fact that the primary sector cannot make a decent living.
According to Garfella, the primary sector has a very important role to play in managing the landscape and maintaining it, and therefore in preventing forest fires: “But forest management has not been profitable for years”. He knows what he is talking about because the cooperative, in addition to working for the administration, works for clients who are forest owners: “Our rural landowner clients know that timber is currently worth very little and that this is not the time to cut down large quantities of trees. Trees are now being felled to allow the forest to be more diverse in structure, more resilient to climate change and more resistant to fire”. He adds that the non-profitability of forests is a general problem in the primary sector: “today, those who work in forestry management, agriculture and livestock farming cannot live without aid”. And the abandonment of crops is an element that contributes to the fact that the forest mass is growing without management or control. And the fact that the exploitation of the forest is not profitable means that the owners do not invest in its planning or management.
We are facing a paradigm shift, says Marc Garfella: “The countryside has been abandoned, and climate change has been accentuated. And this is not exclusive to our country. There are fires all over the world (Argentina, USA, Bolivia, Australia, Canada…). Climate change is changing the landscape, and a forest fire can change it in a few hours. We need to think deeply about land management”.
Faced with this paradigm shift, Garfella asks society in general what kind of country we want: “It is up to citizens to say what kind of country they want, and they must do this not only theoretically, but also actively, that is, by being aware that the actions they take every day influence the landscape of the country, because it is the economy that ends up defining the landscape”.
Product with an impact
80% of the human diet is plant-based, and agriculture represents an important economic resource and means of development for people. We are all aware that forests are home to millions of species, are an important source of clean air and water, and are also key to combating climate change.
And what can we all do together to maintain the landscape? Well, for Marc Garfella, we have to be aware of the products we consume: “In the end, when you buy local produce, whether it is wine, oil, lamb, wood, fruit, you also end up paying for the conservation of the landscape. If farmers, stockbreeders and foresters can make a decent living, they will not abandon their land and will maintain the landscape. When we consume local products, we are consuming products that have an impact.”
Farmers, foresters and livestock farmers, in addition to supplying us with food and energy, also act as managers and planners of the territory. It is up to us to ensure that they can continue their work of preserving the landscape.
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