Fire resilient territories required to tackle extreme wildfire crisis

Real-life solutions in the face of extreme wildfire events were shared with policy makers in a seminar showcasing innovation for management and new strategies from across Europe.

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An EFI video set the stage for discussions advocating a new vision in the strategy for tackling wildfire. Photo: EFIMED.

A clear message emerged at a recent international seminar on wildfire management: extreme wildfire events cannot be addressed through suppression-centered approaches and a new emphasis must be placed on fire resilient territories.

Organised by the European Commission in the frame of the 4th European Climate Change Adaptation Conference, the seminar, Extreme wildfire events: addressing the challenges faced by national governance and management systems across Europe, brought together experts involved in forest fire governance at various scales, who shared examples of successful fire management and sustainable land management approaches.

Inazio Martinez de Arano, Head of the European Forest Institute Mediterranean Facility, (EFIMED) described the new landscapes needed, where fuel loads and continuity are managed to make fires suppressible, where there is a low number of fires starts because undelaying social causes are well addressed and where inhabitants and visitors alike are aware of the wildfire risk and take measures for self-protection.

Marc Castellnou, Head of the Forest Stewardship Support Group (GRAF) of the Government of Catalonia, Spain, highlighted the role of fire services in the modeling of vegetation structures. Breaking with previous approaches of 100% suppression, some forest services are increasingly concentrating on protecting key assets and letting fires burn when socially and ecologically acceptable.

Generalising these approaches requires close cooperation between science and practice to incorporate fire ecology and long-term thinking into operational decisions. The need for sustained investments and functional value chains to support resilient landscapes was highlighted by Peter Moore, Fire Management Specialist at FAO. He advocated for a change in fire-related efforts to move from today’s dominant response approach, with attention on planning and identifying key assets for protection, towards prevention strategies, modifying vegetation structures and post-fire recovery, to minimise the negative effects of extreme fires in the social fabric of territories.

In this context Fantina Tedim, University of Porto, highlighted the need fora greater consideration of the social dimension of fires.  Many of these elements are captured in the policy recommendations emerging from science which have been recently reviewed in Forest Fires: Sparking firesmart policies in the EU and which were summarised by Francico Castro Rego, University of Lisbon, in his keynote address.

Speakers at the event, which took place on 29 May in Lisbon, Portugal, included Athanasios Sfetsos (Demokritos), Rui Barreira (Associação Natureza Portugal/WWF), Inês Vieira (University of Lisbon) and Antonio Soares (National Association of Rural Owners).

Cross-border knowledge and practical exchange is vital to address the barriers in governance and management which often impede an integrated forest fire management strategy. There is a clear need, with extreme wildfires an increasing threat across Europe and globally, for increased collaboration and cooperation that will inspire innovative responses to address this challenge, resulting in the resilient landscapes we so urgently require.