By Natasha Donn
While firefighters are patrolling the perimeter of what is likely to be the biggest wildfire this year, an intense debate has returned over the wisdom of having so many eucalyptus plants. Environmental NGOs have advocated a “strategic plan” for reducing fire risk in the country.
Quercus, one of Portugal’s oldest environmental organizations, and Acrescimo, “have issued a press release today highlighting that it has impacted Mediterranean forests near Monchique Mountain range.” Lusa reports that the fire destroys part of Natura 2000 Network’s special conservation zone, which includes a bird protection area.
The two also note that Navigator owns vast areas of Eucalyptus, and they urge a reevaluation. The fire has caused concern for both Navigator and its customers about the effects of the fires on the forest ecosystems as well as the environmental services.
The statement released at the time said: “It’s essential to minimize the risk of spreading fires because of projections of incandescent material over a distance that disperses secondary foci, making it hard to control and put out fires, as in the case of several areas such as Odemira Aljezur Monchique.”
The associations recommend reforesting eucalyptus trees in Mediterranean forests with “fire resistant species”. “.
Eucalyptus represents a lack in strategic vision, as it threatens to compromise the future of rural economies and the Alentejo coast due to the increased risk of fires and the loss of ecosystem services.
All of this is logical for those who’ve long defended the laissez-faire approach to eucalyptus in this country. Only pulping companies such as Navigator who, only a couple of weeks ago, declared that they need permission to expand their eucalyptus plantings in order to remain sustainable.
Two sides are involved in this debate. One believes that eucalyptus is the cause of forest fires and the other thinks it’s a conspiracy.
In his speech to celebrate Navigator’s seventy-fifth anniversary last month, Antonio Redondo stressed the importance of “demystifying what people don’t know about this species and condemning ignorance”, as well as asking for help in “promoting an unique species of which Portugal should and can be proud”.
Other studies have shown that eucalyptus plants are a major threat to natural water cycles. In Monchique, a pilot project showed that the removal of an intensive eucalyptus forest resulted more water (rainwater) entering municipal aquifers.
This issue is rarely discussed.
Political parties could raise the issue (again), when Parliament returns in September.
It is clear that no matter what happens, the tragic events in Odemira are only going to get worse. Helder Guerreiro, the mayor of Odemira, is calling on the government to help businesses and farmers who have suffered a loss in the summer. This means that in many cases they won’t be able to make any money for the remainder of the year.
The most serious concern is for the agriculture sector. There are reruns on television of interviews with people who have “done everything” to save their homestead and animals, but have now nothing left to support them.
The burned eucalyptus is likely to sprout new green growth very quickly during this period. Strategic vision must be developed quickly if it is to exist.
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