“We need wildfire prevention rather than fire suppression” – EFI-expert responds to EU’s new rescEU plan

The European summer of 2017 had unprecedented amounts of natural disasters happening simultaneously, such as devastating forest fires in Portugal, immense storms in Germany and Greece an the UK, often followed by severe floods. It is estimated that natural disasters cost EU member states about 360 Billion Euro over the past 40 years, while over 200 people lost their lives in fires, storms and floods in 2017 alone.

Threatened by increasing magnitudes of climate change and destabilized by a lack of resources and cross border coordination, the EU faced the fact that something has to change. To boost Europe’s ability to better deal with natural disasters, the European Commission yesterday launched rescEU, an initiative to improve the European system to tackle natural disasters. The intention is to strengthen European response capacities on the one hand, and (maybe) more importantly to improve cooperation and coherence of disaster prevention and preparedness among European countries on the other hand.

“From the perspective of the European Forest Risk Facility hosted by European Forest Institute we welcome the statement of the commissioner, indeed we support his statement for more cooperation and prevention, hand in hand with adequate response to disasters”, says European Forest Institute’s (EFI) own senior expert on Forest-, Fire-, and Wildlife management Alexander Held.  However, we might have the wrong focus, also reflected in media coverage (like the German ZEIT), which so far focuses on the first aspect: suppression and fire control. A misallocation of money and resources, arisen due to misinformed people with a wish for a political spectacle, according to Held. “Large wildfires only occur through a combination of three things: an ignition, severe fire weather and a large contiguous accumulation of fuel. Take away the factors mankind cannot control, and you are left dealing with the accumulation of fuel – thus preemptive fire management. Broad scale fuel reduction burning (or grazing, mulching, mowing, converting to productive, valuable forest) is the only defense we have against large wildfires”, so Held. “Fire control through water bombers has its place, but is – just like any other case of symptom combating –  ineffective when dealing with large wildfires.”

Make sure you do not miss out on Alexander Held’s full statement on rescEU, as he makes a comprehensive case for allocating resources towards wildfire prevention rather than fire suppression. The statement is based on the expertise of the forest fire manager Held and does not necessarily reflect EFI’s viewpoint as an organization.

 

Tackling wildfires in Mediterranean forests

Catastrophic forest fires claimed lives this summer across the world, from California to Portugal and Spain. The Mediterranean basin is a global wildfire hotspot and the threat of wildfires to forests and society is expected to increase with climate change.

Scientists from the European Forest Institute (EFI) urge a shift in focus on how we tackle this problem, moving beyond the current emphasis on fire suppression. They argue that the bio-economy offers means to activate management and to demonstrate that forests are a valuable resource, as a smart and sustainable strategy to address the problem of wildfires.

In a new paper published in Forest Policy and Economics, the researchers consider the opportunities offered by a forest-based bio-economy alongside an improved recognition of the value of forests. They suggest a strategic policy shift in favour of fire prevention as part of an integrated forest management strategy, while calling for a shift in mind-set for society to recognise the various ways in which forests provide value.

A comprehensive guide to risk and crisis management

For those, who are interested in practical approaches to risk and crisis management – check out these publications (in German):

The Swiss federal institute for forest, snow and landscape (WSL) is providing a comprehensive collection of its publications, which provides information on risk and crisis management in forestry – Merkblatt für die Praxis. The papers are condensed versions of the institute’s research findings and translated into sets of practical guidelines. They are of interest to practitioners, to forest and environmental delegates as well as to lay persons.

Zahl der Waldbrände in Europa verdreifacht, sagt EFI-Experte

Immer öfter werden in Europa in Zukunft Waldbrände wüten, mehr und mehr Flächen werden von ihnen verschlungen, warnt Waldbrand-Experte Alexander Held vom European Forest Institute in einem Interview mit Euronews. Das betrifft auch Länder, in denen man es absolut nicht erwartet hätte. Die traditionelle Waldbrandsaison habe sich zudem verlängert, so Held.

Fighting catastrophic forest fires: a new vision

In this short video, the European Forest Institute (EFI) looks at the key factors of increased forest fire risk in the Mediterranean region and advocates for a new vision based on shifting the focus from reactive fire suppression to long-term proactive fire prevention and forest management at the landscape scale.