Rural development funding and wildfire prevention

A new paper published in the "Land Use Policy" journal explores the relationships between wildfire activity and European Union Rural Development Program (RDP) measures addressing both direct and indirect fire prevention.

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Mediterranean landscape after forest fire. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Rural landscapes in Southern Europe have been increasingly exposed to wildfires during the last decades due to climate and land use changes. This altered fire regime calls for a paradigm change in wildfire management policy, in order to rebalance public expenditures between suppression and prevention activities.

An effective wildfire risk prevention can be achieved not only by fuel management measures aimed at reducing fuel loads or changing the spatial arrangement of fuels (i.e. “direct prevention”), but also by supporting diversified landscape mosaics through the maintenance of forestry, farming and grazing activities (i.e. “indirect prevention”). In fact, a well-managed land use mosaic is able to reduce fuel load and continuity, thus generating cascading effects on the reduction of the spread, growth, intensity and severity of fires.

In fire exposed marginal areas, where the rate of land abandonment is higher, the European Union Rural Development Program (RDP) represents the most substantial public financial instrument to promote farm permanency by supporting the competitiveness, environmental performance and viability of rural areas.

In this context, understanding the possible contribution of RDP measures to wildfire risk mitigation could help planning subsidies allocation for fire prevention in a more efficient way. However, little is known on the links between the spatial allocation of RDP subsidies, relevant for wildfires prevention, and the spatial distribution of fire activity.

Within the project PREVAIL (PREVention Action Increases Large fire response preparedness), funded by the EU Civil Protection Mechanism Programme, a research was conducted to examine whether RDP expenditure on direct and indirect wildfire prevention in Italy is linked to the territorial needs of wildfire management, quantified by fire activity. Results are presented in an article recently published in Land Use Policy journal, “Rural development funding and wildfire prevention: Evidences of spatial mismatches with fire activity”.

Photo: PREVAIL project

The Authors found a weak nexus between wildfire territorial diffusion and expenditures on fire-related RDP measures, which have been proved not to be concentrated in municipalities with higher fire activity. In addition, the spatial structure of total expenditures by individual or aggregated measures appeared to be particularly fragmented.

The results suggested that RDP subsidies on both direct and indirect measures were dispersed across the Italian territory, resulting in inefficient allocation of financial resources in the perspective of cross-sectorial wildfire risk management, and highlight the need for a stronger integration of territorial planning within the RDP funding.

Study conclusions invite to rethinking ways to reinforce the nexus between rural development policies and fire management policies in order to allocate RDP limited financial resources to high-risk areas identified by fire risk plans based on strategic fuel management principles. In addition, integrating RDP indirect prevention measures within fire management plans would be a cost-effective approach to increase the impact of public policies on wildfire risk management. The less disperse the fire-related RDP funds allocation, the higher the chance to reach the size of land management investments required to mitigate wildfire risk at a landscape scale.

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Full reference

Colonico, M., Tomao, A., Ascoli, D., Corona, P., Giannino, F., Moris, J. V, Romano, R., Salvati, L., Barbati, A., 2022. Rural development funding and wildfire prevention: Evidences of spatial mismatches with fire activity. Land use policy 117, 106079.