CIRS Blog about Rural California
Lorena M. Zavala. University of Seville, Sevilla, Spain
Antonio Jordán. University of Seville, Sevilla, Spain
Jorge Mataix-Solera. University Miguel Hernández, Elche, Spain
Artemi Cerdà. University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Originally posted at http://blogs.egu.eu/divisions/sss/ on March 3, 2015.
According to official statistics, during the 1990’s, about 1.5 million ha were burned in Spain. In the first decade of this century, the burned area in Spain also surpassed one million hectares. To put it in conventional TV surface units, the burned area in the past 20 years equals the provinces of Cáceres and Badajoz, or 274,000 soccer fields. The effects caused by the fire on the soil have been studied over the past 20 years by research groups who have made a significant contribution to the advancement and improvement of scientific knowledge.
Forest fires are a regular topic of conversation in our society, especially during summer conversations, and people agrees to describe forest fires as disasters. Instead, they disagree vehemently about forest management, restoration and prevention policies. We have never seen one of those familiar discussions in which a consensus has been reached. Nor have we seen people talking about the twinned management of fire and forest areas. We cannot understand fire as something alien to ecosystems.
Undoubtedly, forest fires are an important part of the history of Mediterranean and most terrestrial ecosystems. Natural fires caused by lightning or other causes such as volcanic eruptions, have contributed to shape the history of vegetation, soils, and ultimately the landscape we know. Fire has been used by humans since 400,000 years ago and only about 10,000 years ago man learned to light a fire without relying on natural agents such as lightning.
Since then, the fire has been an excellent tool to harness and manage natural ecosystems worldwide. The Mediterranean landscape we know today has been shaped by the action of man for thousands of years, and the use of fire is not out of this process. The intense transformation of original forests in cropland and pastures since the fifteenth century to promote livestock, the exploitation of coal and wood, and human supply has been possible thanks to fire.
Since the mid-twentieth century, and as a result of urbanization and the abandonment of rural areas, traditional agricultural uses and management are being lost. Perhaps this is why, now, people see fire as an enemy that must be eradicated. The problem is not fire itself, but the modification of natural fire regimes in ecosystems.
This has turned fire, a natural ecological factor, in an environmental problem. The solution therefore is not as simple as the total eradication of fire. Burning shrubland.