The role of rural communities, key to wildfire prevention 

3 April 2023

So demonstrate the results of two scientific articles focused on nature-based solutions for fire prevention, published within the framework of the FriESmart project 

There is a consensus on the causes and possible nature-based solutions for the prevention of forest fires 

Reversing rural abandonment through agriculture and the promotion of fire-resistant forest species minimizes the damage caused by wildfires while providing socioeconomic benefits 

Fire is a natural element in Mediterranean ecosystems. Finding strategies that reduce the damage caused by large forest fires while guaranteeing the conservation of biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services was the objective of the project FirESmart “Nature-based solutions for preventive fire management and sustainable supply of ecosystem services.” 

After four years of work, the project has concluded, but not before presenting several scientific papers that underline the role of nature-based solutions as a fundamental tool for fire prevention. 

In an Open Access article published in the journal Ecology and Society, the research team, led by CTFC researcher Adrián Regos, has gathered the opinion of over 100 local actors involved in two biosphere reserves straddling Spain and Portugal: Gerês-Xurés and Meseta Ibérica. The researchers presented a series of possible actions at the fuel management level, such as prescribed burning, using chemicals, introducing herbivores, thinning, using mechanical treatments for fuel extraction, etc. to better understand the social acceptance of the different strategies. 

The answers show a shared vision among the respondents. For example, 92% perceive rural abandonment as the main cause of large forest fires. “There is a very accurate common vision. The people surveyed are aware that the problem comes from a lack of management and the abandonment, fundamentally, of traditional livestock activities. They recognize the high capacity to deal with fires, although they also agree that large forest fires exceed this capacity,” explains Regos. 

The work concludes that fire-smart management, such as the promotion of agriculture and extensive livestock, and the gradual conversion of forest plantations toward native forest species with greater resistance to fire have the potential to become effective nature-based solutions in the region. For the team, this is a first analysis that represents the basis to co-design and implement nature-based solutions to improve preventive fire management. 

In a second work published in the Journal of Environmental Management, the team has delved into the socioeconomic benefits of different land use scenarios. Focusing on the Gerês-Xurés reserve, four scenarios have been modeled and analyzed: 1) business as usual (rural abandonment), 2) transition to fire-resilient landscapes, with a higher presence of native species, 3) reversing rural abandonment with high nature value farmlands, or 4) high nature value farmlands combined with fire-resilient landscapes. “We have used different mathematical models that have allowed us to implement some of the scenarios and strategies co-created with local actors,” explains Núria Aquilué, a CTFC researcher who has participated in both articles. 

Landscapes offer ecosystem services that are not usually valued, although they do have value, such as climate regulation, recreation, or the reduction of fire risk offered by herds of goats and sheep. Thus, the team incorporated into the studied scenarios a biophysical as well as economical quantification. Therefore, they considered both the costs associated with each type of management, the costs for suppressing fires, and the costs avoided with each scenario, reaching a clear conclusion.  

Although each scenario provides benefits, the research focused on minimizing the socioeconomic losses associated with forest fires. Thus, the study concludes that the fourth scenario, reversing rural abandonment through high nature value farmlands and the promotion of fire-resilient forest species, is the strategy that provides the highest socioeconomic and biodiversiuty benefits, while minimizing losses associated with forest fires. Following this logic, the scientists conclude that the role of rural communities in fire prevention should be economically recognized. 

About FirESmart: 

The FirESmart project aims to reduce the damage caused by large forest fires while guaranteeing the conservation of biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services, integrating the ecological and socioeconomic dimensions of the problem of forest fires. Video project:  

Further information: 

  1. Lecina-Diaz, J., Campos, J.C., Pais, S., …, Aquilué, N., Brotons, L., Duane, A., Hermoso, V., Regos, A.(2023). Stakeholder perceptions of wildfire management strategies as nature-based solutions in two Iberian biosphere reserves. Ecology and Society, 28(1), 39.  
  1. Lecina-Diaz, J., Chas-Amil, M.L., Aquilué, N., Sil, Â., Brotons, L., Regos, A.,  Touza, J. (2023). Incorporating fire-smartness into agricultural policies reduces suppression costs and ecosystem services damages from wildfires. Journal of Environmental Management, 33, 117707.   

Last modified: 21 June 2023