Fire management in Viking style – looking for solutions together

The North is getting hot! Last year with its uncommonly warm and dry spring and summer caused lot of problems to the forest and agricultural sector in the Nordic countries. In addition, Sweden suffered from extensive wildfires. Due to climate change, summers like 2018 might become the new normal. To address this, the Nordic Council of Ministers launched a project group  that is a collaboration between Nordic Agri Research (NKJ) and Nordic Forest Research (SNS). SNS held a workshop “Nordic forestry in times of extreme weather” in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the 1st of March to discuss amongst the participants from the ministries and fire service, how Nordic collaboration could be strengthened to face the new challenges. Laura Nikinmaa from the European Forest Institute’s Resilience Programme was invited to be a guest speaker together with Marc Castellnou from the Pau Costa Foundation and Martin Vendelbo from the Danish Emergency Management Agency.

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The workshop started with Marc Castellnou’s presentation on his experience of fighting wildfires during the last 30 years in Spain and other parts of the world. During his professional life, the weather in Spain has statistically changed three times to warmer conditions. In addition, the landscape management has changed as people have moved from the countryside to the cities. This has created new environment for fire to spread and in the worst case to create megafires such as the devastating fires in Portugal 2017. While such development is not yet so prominent in the Nordic countries, climate change will certainly increase the occurrence of the fire-favorable weather, which will have consequences in the fire regime. Mr Castellnou stressed the importance of landscape management in firefighting, prevention and mitigation: when there is a vast amount of fuel and good weather conditions for fire, there is very little fire fighters can do. Managing our landscape for fire is the only efficient way to fight fire.

How then to know how to manage the landscape and strategically plan for fire? Some of the best ways are to learn from others’ experiences and collaborate with one another across the national and discipline boarders. The workshop was a good example of that, having participants from not only forestry and agricultural ministries but also of enterprise and innovation as well as experts from the emergency services. To lighten more of the benefits of mutual learning and exchange of experts, Laura Nikinmaa presented the European Forest Risk Facility initiative, a platform aiming to connect science, knowledge, practice and policy, to collect and distribute data for a better understanding of forest risks and facilitate the exchange of best practices. The initiative has a vast network of experts on different forest disturbance topics across Europe and can provide unbureaucratic assistance and help in capacity building.

The Nordic countries have strong tradition in collaborating with one another and the scientists, policy makers and practitioners in these countries are well connected. The project group itself was launched as a response to the need for more Nordic collaboration and mutual learning, a need that also lead to the development of the European Forest Risk Facility initiative. All the prerequisites therefore exists for planning and developing a beneficial fire management cooperation. As the project group ideas are very much in line with the ideas behind the European Forest Risk Facility initiative, the facility’s expertise and extensive network would be a good starting point to strengthen the cooperation of the Nordic countries with the rest of Europe as well. After all, the Vikings have a reputation to maintain: they were once present from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.

The lectures can be found here.

Further reading: This is a very interesting, and motivating, blog post from the “Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network”. With some minor adaptions (land use change for instance), this article refers not only to the US but to Europe just as well! Read it, and please consider that, in Europe, prescribed fire is only one tool in the land- and fuel management toolbox.

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