“The implementation of agricultural policies that foster and protect local agricultural activities may counteract the negative effects associated with rural abandonment, which can considerably reduce the risk and impact of major forest fires in the mountainous interior regions of the Iberian Peninsula”, says the CIBIO researcher -InBIO, João Campos.

The researcher, together with the CIBIO-InBIO researcher and volunteer firefighter Silvana Pais, as well as other scholars from the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), carried out a study recently published in the journal Ecosystem Servisses, through which they prove that the integration of land management aimed at protecting and promoting the increase of agricultural areas with “intelligent fire management” strategies may contribute to the mitigation of forest fires.

In this way, it may also be possible to guarantee the conservation of biodiversity and the provision of carbon sequestration services.
Cited in a statement from CIBIO-InBIO, João Campos speaks of a reduction of about 50 percent in the burnt areas.

This study, carried out in the Gerês-Xurés Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, is based on the belief that the growing trends of forest fires and their impacts on the landscapes of southern Europe are interlinked with the pronounced effects of climate change and the regional abandonment of the territory.

Researchers believe that, in addition, current fire management policies focus mainly on their immediate suppression and ignore the problems of landscape management.

“Taking into account this context, it is necessary to evaluate other alternatives for territory management that can counter current trends in the impact of fire in these regions”, they add, defending the implementation of ‘fire-smart’ strategies, that is “intelligent fire management”.

These alternatives aim to control the fire regime by converting the current vegetation to a less flammable one in order to create environments that are more resistant and resilient to fire.

“Surprisingly, the efficiency of these strategies in mitigating major forest fires, as well as the potential benefits for the conservation of biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services, remains practically unexplored”, points out CIBIO-InBIO.

The study was based on simulating the evolution of the landscape according to different territorial management strategies for the next decades, using the 2020/2050 time horizon, and analysing the potential impacts on the fire regime, on carbon sequestration and storage, and in the availability of habitats for 116 species of birds, amphibians and reptiles.

“The study shows that the protection and expansion of agricultural areas, combined with ‘fire-smart’ strategies, could contribute to a 50 percent reduction in the areas burnt by major forest fires expected in the period between 2030 and 2050. A management strategy ‘fire-smart’ would also contribute to an increase in carbon sequestration in the study area”, reads the summary made by the centre, associated with the University of Porto.

Integrated policies can also, researchers believe, contribute to an increase in habitat availability for unprotected or non-threatened species within the boundaries of the reserve’s protected areas over the next 40 years, as well as appear to be the most beneficial management scenarios for protected species, ensuring a stabilisation of available habitat over the next three decades.