Forest owners denounce barriers to making forests profitable: “We only remember them when they burn”

Behind sweden, Finland i Austria, Catalonia it is considered the most forested European region, with 2 million hectares of forest. This area has grown by more than 60% in the last decades due to the abandonment of the primary sector. Both the Generalitat as forest owners – 75% of forests are private – point out that forest management is key if we want to avoid large fires. The general secretary of Forestry Consortium, John Rovira, explains that they live in a “contradictory” situation because the forests have “increasingly potential” to be an economic engine, but administrative obstacles prevent it. They also claim to speed up the procedures fromUnion of Farmers: “If we don’t get a mosaic landscape, we won’t stop the fires”.

The general secretary of the Catalan Forestry Consortium, Joan Rovira, points out that a “forestry revolution” is currently underway, which is accompanied by a revaluation of forest-related products, and warns that, if there are no legislative changes, Catalonia you may miss this train. Rovira notes that there are many “contradictions” and that the regulations do not respond to current needs: “It ends up being like an obstacle course because many times the administrations involved are uncommunicated vessels and we find many inconsistencies”.

They also complain about excessive bureaucratic procedures from the Union of Farmers. “On the one hand, they are asking us to do more forest management, but on the other they are putting more and more obstacles”, laments the head of the union’s forests, Joseph Rios. In fact, he warns that with the situation of climate change and increasingly virulent fires “if the work is not done as soon as possible, one day everything will be lost”. “Those responsible for Bombers they are clear: we will stop the fire where we have the land cleared and where action can be taken”, he warns.

The Consortium believes that if more facilities were given to owners, there would be more use of the forests and, in return, a reduction in the risk of fire with more forest area managed. “We talk about forest management when the forest burns, but the rest of the year we don’t do our homework to make this possible”, he regrets. “These problems and contradictions come from a lack of forestry culture, where cutting down a tree is still seen as a crime, as an attack, when it has long been proven that this is not the case”, remarks Joan Rovira. They also propose tax incentives with bonuses for hiring labor, which is 80% of forest management expenses, or regulating non-timber products.

In fact, since Govern they are aware that it is necessary to increase forest management. The deputy director general of Boscos, Enrique Vadell, believes that “an entire generation is needed” for a change to be noticed in the management of forests and makes it clear that “we cannot leave the duties for the next generation”. “We are the ones in charge of doing our homework so that the next generation finds the country in different conditions.” In this sense, he points out that Catalonia is “on track” to do forest management and believes that the sector is “very eager to move forward” and that the “market supports it”. Vadell also focuses on the recovery of pastures as a management tool: “in recent decades, a lot of pastures have been lost and we are very interested in recovering them to prevent fires and increase biodiversity.”

The ruptures, an alternative

From the Consorci Forestal de Catalunya they believe that optimal forest management involves cutting down trees, changing the uses of the estates and making breaks. Specifically, this technique consists of converting plots that are currently forest into farmland or pasture. In Catalonia in recent years, they have been doing so, but they warn that less than what would be necessary, and with complex procedures that sometimes put forest owners back.

Union of Farmers believes that the breaks are another tool to move towards the mosaic landscape, which combines forest and agricultural exploitations. In this sense, Rius regrets that there are more and more obstacles to carry out the breaks. He says they used to be able to use this work on land of up to 10 hectares without having to do any environmental studies, but now this has been limited to 3 hectares. “It doesn’t mean that the whole country has to be broken up, but if we don’t make it easier for the forest to fragment and create a mosaic, we will never stop the fires,” explains Rius.

The deputy director general of Boscos, Enric Vadell, remembers that the breaks are regulated by the Forest law Catalan and that they must be authorized by Climate Action Department. He explains that the law considers them to be “exceptional” and that planning reports have a lot of weight in them. He admits that in Catalonia there is an aspect to be resolved such as the urban planning of non-developable land, since “many times it ends up being given a cataloging that does not agree with what is really happening”. “In the end, there is still an economic activity in the rustic land and it is not a fixed picture, but is in constant transformation”, reports Vadell, who adds: “sometimes the planning regulations do not capture all the idiosyncrasies well enough and the activities that take place there».

In 2021, according to data from the Department of Climate Action, a total of 1,469 breaks were authorized in Catalonia with an affected area of ​​1,136 hectares, most of which in the Central Catalonia i Ponent. The data has remained stable in recent years: in 2020 there were 956; in 2019 a total of 1,083; in 2018, 1,037 were reached; while in 2017 there were 1,303 break-ins.

Sick chestnut trees that cannot be replaced: “I want to be a forest manager, not a doctor”

An example of these traversals that report is the case of Carlos Corominas, which manages family forest farms. One of the estates, located in Osor (Selva), is in the Massif de las Guilleries in protected spaces of the Natura 2000 network. In this area of ​​about 125 hectares, the chestnut tree predominates, which was planted by their ancestors at a time when the wood was well valued in the market and could be taken advantage of. The problem now is that 70% of the chestnut trees he has there are sick, affected by canker: “They are drying out, the plant can’t do anything and it will end up dying and falling to the ground”.

Corominas, advised by technicians from the Consortium, made a management plan that pointed out that the way to make this space profitable was to cut down the chestnut trees and plant pine Douglas. It cannot do so because the regulations state that “replantings with non-native forest species in areas of the Natura 2000 network are considered incompatible”. “Those who manage forest estates know that it is love for the family heritage because the return is scarce and limited”, explains the forest owner who also emphasizes that any current investment would not pay off until 50 or 60 years from now, in the case of conifers

“I’m sorry to come and see the forest like this because it’s like going to the hospital to see the sick and what I want to be is a forest manager, not a doctor,” he added. Carlos Corominas considers that this regulation does not adapt to the real need and regrets that it prevents him from being able to manage the forest well.

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