The integration of forest management with renewable energy uses may help land managers in optimizing firefighting programs, a new study shows. This strategy will be especially relevant in Mediterranean countries given the increasing intensity of forest fires caused by climate change and land abandonment.

This study, led by researchers of the Forest Science Centre of Catalonia (CTFC), CREAF, CSIC and UAB, suggests that biomass extraction has the potential to substantially contribute to reshape fire regime towards a more desirable scenario by decreasing the number of large fires and, in turn, the amount of burned area. The study encourages land managers to consider this type of extraction as a cost-effective strategy to reduce forest fuel.

The study, published in Ecosystems journal, is based on a model that reproduces the interactions between fire, vegetation dynamics and biomass extraction in a Mediterranean landscape. This study is the first quantitative assessment of this practice at medium-term (horizon 2050). According to Adrian Regos, lead author of the article, biomass extraction can be an effective strategy for fire prevention “however, its effectiveness will be strongly determined by the spatial allocation of the extraction and how firefighters might use the opportunities created by biomass extraction as fire-suppression strategy and, to a lesser extent, by the intensity of extraction”.

In this sense, the article suggests that “burned area could potentially be reduced, especially if biomass extraction is strategically allocated in high fire-risk areas, and depending on the amount of managed area, could eventually account for up to 60% reduction“. Also it concludes that all this information “would serve as a cornerstone for the optimization of this fuel-reduction strategy and its successful implementation in future firefighting programs forced to deal with global change.”

An opportunity to reinforce the convergence of forests, economy and green energy

The study also highlights the potential synergies of this strategy with socio-economic and energy policies ¾strengthening the link between forestry and energy sector. The growing use of bioenergy could favour the lack of forest management in many parts of the country, especially if it is linked with a proximity consumer policy. This management should therefore be encouraged by both public and private sector, through e.g. policies related to European funds for rural and regional development (FEDER and FEADER programs).

Among the abovementioned considerations, authors also highlight “the positive effect of this activity on a possible reduction of fire suppression costs”, as pointed Lluís Brotons, researcher in CTFC, CREAF and CSIC, and one of the promoters of the study. For this reason, they also consider appropriate to recall that it is necessary to combine biomass harvesting practices with other underbrush fuel-reduction treatments, whether mechanical or by prescribed burning (i.e. planned fires intentionally applied to remove underbrush).

More information:

A.Regos, N. Aquilué, I. López, M. Codina, J. Retana, L. Brotons (2016) Synergies Between Forest Biomass Extraction for Bioenergy and Fire Suppression in Mediterranean Ecosystems: Insights from a Storyline-and-Simulation Approach. EcosystemsDOI: 10.1007/s10021-016-9968-z