Destructive forest fires are increasing in Spain, and so is awareness of their connection to climate change. A topic worth more visibility, however, is how societal factors such as the abandonment of rural areas contribute to catalyse forest fires. With this in mind, the Spanish Board of Forest Engineers (Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros de Montes – COIM) distinguished the work of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González in drawing public attention to the issue. The award of COIM Honorary Member was handed to González this October in Madrid by INFORMA’s Scientific Committee Chairman and COIM dean, Eduardo Rojas Briales, from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV).
According to the COIM, González has worked since 2016 to disseminate the circumstances surrounding the problem of forest fires and, simultaneously, promoted practical solutions, emphasising the importance of sustainable forest management and the development of the rural economy as the most effective means of prevention.
Eduardo Rojas Briales said „This is a well-deserved recognition because the informative work carried out by Felipe González is in line with the work that the COIM has been doing for years. We have always shared in our institution the concern about forest fires, but in recent years, this concern has intensified due to the significant growth of our forest area. It is worth remembering that Spain is not experiencing deforestation, but quite the opposite. This is largely due to the abandonment of rural areas. The lack of timely action exposes us to the serious risk of facing mega-fires that could jeopardise everything we achieved in recent decades“.
For the COIM, it is essential to focus efforts on land planning and management. In this sense, Felipe González emphasised that „when the degrees reached by this mass of fire exceed a thousand degrees, as if it were the La Palma Volcano, there is no water to combat it. All the water that falls on it simply evaporates before it hits the ground, but everyone is calling for more seaplanes, more helicopters… and specialists know that they are not working. This is really one of the things that shocked me the most because I was really focused for a long time on the technology and the available means of firefighting“.
The Board also believes that measures such as revitalising forest management and supporting extensive livestock farming are essential to reduce the intensity of fires should they occur. Furthermore, it stresses the importance of encouraging extensive farming to create and maintain effective separations between forest areas, while at the same time combating the abandonment of the rural environment in a coherent manner. As Felipe González commented: „We have to know this, because it is essential for governance and for the media, the landscape and the countryside. Local people will not always be right, but you have to listen to what they have to say. There is nothing that protects the forest more, and nothing that improves the fight against forest fires more than a landscape that is aware of what it is worth, especially if it has a communal value”.
Finally, the COIM considers it necessary to address the barriers that hinder the implementation of these actions, such as excessive restrictions on primary activities or the lack of management of small properties in the adverse context of climate change.
Source: Adapted from COIM press release „Felipe González, nombrado Colegiado de Honor del Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros de Montes„, 6 October 2023.