Sustainable cork management reduces the risk of forest fires

The Catalan Cork Institute reports in this article how a sustainable and adequate forest management of cork oak groves can be key to increase resilience to forest fires in areas where these tree species abound.

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Photo: Catalan Cork Institute (IC Suro)

The International Day of Forests was celebrated on 21 March. This year, the UN has decided to focus on SDG 12: “Ensuring sustainable consumption and production.” This approach highlights the strategic dimension that forests are acquiring in the response to climate change through the bioeconomy as the main source of carbon-neutral biomaterials.

These forest-based biomaterials, in addition to wood and bamboo, include cork, produced in the western Mediterranean and with different applications such as cork stoppers, construction insulation, decorative elements, clothing, shoes, among others. The use of cork generates a complex value chain largely made up of SMEs firmly rooted in the territory and key in the fight against rural depopulation.

According to Eduardo Rojas, President of PEFC International and President of the Spanish Association of Forest Engineers, “Cork is one of the most obvious examples of a sustainable value chain in all its dimensions: environmental, social and, in addition, an obvious cultural dimension. ”In addition, cork is a material that, thanks to its properties, becomes a great insulator and protector against fire.

Cork extraction begins in May, during which time the cork’s outer bark, the cork, is extracted until the end of August. This layer is responsible for protecting the cork oak from the risk of fire, as it is a fire-retardant natural coat that burns superficially in the event of a fire, but keeps the tree alive. Therefore, prior management of cork forests to reduce the likelihood of a fire starting is crucial.

Joan J. Puig, President of AECORK, points out that “in addition to being a natural barrier against fire, cork oaks are a natural gem that must be preserved, as they have a great biodiversity, they are CO2 sinks, they contribute to the “Sustainable forest use, they are a barrier against desertification and offer us a natural, sustainable product with unique properties such as cork.”

The reduction in the risk of fire thanks to the management of the cork oak is due to the silvicultural work of clearing, selective felling and clearing of forest roads.

Patrícia Jové, PhD in charge of the R&D area of ​​the Fundació Institut Català del Suro, points out that “cork oak is considered a highly fire-resistant species due to the insulating properties of its bark and it has been shown that the effects of a fire are observed at most in the outermost layers of 1-2 mm (Pereira, 2011). After the fire, the ability to grow the stem and the cup is maintained. “

Photo: Catalan Cork Institute (IC Suro).

When planning for prevention, it is important to consider and work on three key elements: societal awareness, forestry, and preventive organisation.

First of all, society needs to be made aware of the different attitudes that can provoke a fire, promoting empathy towards affected sectors or through the training of professionals and spokespersons.

On the other hand, to carry out preventive forestry tasks, ie prevention activities that favor the control and extinction of a possible fire, such as. create discontinuities in the vegetation, firewalls appropriate to the height of the trees or even the realisation of controlled burning in winter to reduce fuel in the forest.

Finally, the work structure organised to fight against the appearance and development of fires should be highlighted. The main objective of the preventive structure is for the professionals in charge to carry out surveillance and detection of possible sources, using means such as surveillance booths, helicopters, infrared radiation sensors, geostationary satellites or mobile personnel in vehicles or on foot; because, once detected, turn it off immediately.