Does land governance help prevent wildfires?

A new paper published in the international journal “Science of The Total Environment” tests quantitatively the indirect wildfire mitigation effect of land governance.

133
Figure 1. Fire resistant and resilient landscape, next to Calci (Pisa, Italy). Photo: Luca Tonnarelli

In Southern Europe, the impacts caused by large fires are increasingly significant, despite enhanced efforts in active firefighting and the introduction of direct prevention strategies in some regions, such as the planning of firebreaks and preemptive forest management techniques like prescribed burning.

However, the altered fire regime and their widespread impacts make direct prevention and active firefighting insufficient without the integration of agro-silvopastoral land management. Cultivation, extensive livestock farming, forestry, and sustainable resource management can indirectly have a positive regulatory effect on fires, on a much larger scale than what can be achieved through direct prevention and active firefighting.

The concept of indirect prevention has been the subject of debate in recent years, partly due to limited scientific literature on the topic. A recent study [1], taking Italy as a case study, seeks to shed light on the issue through quantitative analysis. By considering all fires that occurred from 2007 to 2017 and including the most relevant drivers of fire regimes (climate, weather conditions, landscape flammability, socioeconomic conditions, land abandonment processes, and land use change), the study demonstrates that areas where active management has been implemented in recent years have experienced reduced fire impacts.

Due to the lack of unified and harmonized italian national data on land planning and management (especially in forestry), several proxies were chosen to represent these aspects, including:

  • Land use transitions towards less flammable landscapes;
  • Extensive livestock farming;
  • Protected areas;
  • Implementation of EU-LIFE projects;
  • Forest areas certified by FSC and PEFC;
  • Funds invested through the EU Rural Development Program (RDP);
  • Forested areas where regular forest management treatments are conducted (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Land governance proxies used in the study Spadoni et al., 2023 [1]. Image: Gian Luca Spadoni

The study shows, using Random Forest algorithms, how all these processes can have an indirect effect on fire prevention and mitigation in terms of reduced severity and smaller burned areas in forested territories that provide important ecosystem services and in interface areas with urban environments. In the majority of cases analyzed, this reduction in fire impacts exceeds 50%, under the same conditions (climate, land characteristics, geography, and socioeconomic factors). In other words, more virtuous and active territories have half the fire impacts compared to areas that invest fewer resources in land management.

Therefore, the results of this study support the concept of indirect prevention through sustainable land management, promoted through regional, national, and European policies that foster rural development to create a “fire-resistant and resilient landscape.”

Reference

  1. Spadoni, G.L., Moris, J.V., Vacchiano, G., Elia, M., Garbarino, M., Sibona, E., Tomao, A., Barbati, A., Sallustio, L., Salvati, L., Ferrara, C., Francini, S., Bonis, E., Dalla Vecchia, I., Strollo, A., Di Leginio, M., Munafò, M., Chirici, G., Romano, R., Corona, P., Marchetti, M., Brunori, A., Motta, R., Ascoli, D., 2023. Active governance of agro-pastoral, forest and protected areas mitigates wildfire impacts in Italy. Science of The Total Environment 890, 164281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.164281