As Greece burns, expert calls for national forest policy

Evia fire

Following the inevitable summer routine of destructive fires ravaging across Greece, forest specialist and forester of Kilkis, Giorgos Vourtsas called on the country to implement a national forest policy on mixed tree planting.

Speaking to Greek news agency ANA about the large fire in central Evia that started at a Natura-network forest and was still blazing Wednesday, Vourtsas said his proposed policy of mixed tree planting will include species that may be non-native but fire resistant.

“We are a Mediterranean country, and our native forest species are fire-prone species,” Vourtsas said, adding however that natural fires help forests regenerate.

“It is part of the natural life cycle that some types of pine will at some point will burn down, and this benefits them during regrowth, with revival following their burning down – this relates to self-generating trees,” the forester explains, but added that as difficult as it may be, Greece needs to import “trees with wide leaves which resist fires, restrict them and help in their prevention.”

Vourtsas also said that despite the public’s conception that Greece is losing forestlands to fires rapidly and irrevocably, “If one looks at the mosaic of Greece forests, what they were like 20 to 30 years ago and what they look like today, they will notice that our forests are expanding, despite the fact some are burning down.”

The explanation he offered is that “the basic problem in our mountain and semi-mountain forests was that animal grazing was very developed, and there were a lot of people who had to burn wood as fuel. (…) Once these factors were eliminated, we see whole forests and wish we had a shepherd go by” with his flock to keep the pathways open.”

“We cannot maintain all fire paths because the funding is so little,” Vourtsas noted, “so we try to select central paths.”

Public opinion however has been turning around on creating fire zones, following the tragic conflagration in Mati last summer. “Some residents, who were oversensitive and would say, ‘No let’s not clear a zone around an urban forest by cutting trees down’, have become more flexible, as they realise that there is a danger” to leaving things as they are. “In this sense,” he said, “public dialogue is on the right path.” 

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