Temperatures have peaked at record highs in many parts of Europe this week, and the consequences are being felt severely in Europe’s forests. As highlighted in a discussion document published by the EPN earlier this year, there is an increasingly clear link between climate change, large-scale industrial tree plantations and forest fires.
In Northern Spain, temperatures are set to exceed 44 °C (111.2 °F) this week, leading to devastating wildfires. More than 500 firefighters and soldiers have battled the fires that have reached a scale not seen for years in the country. The fire in the eastern Catalan province of Tarragona has so far burned across 5,500 hectares (12,355 acres) of land.
On the western side of Spain, the situation is not any better. Last year, Spanish forest expert Alberte Blanco urged the Galician Parliament to “limit and reduce” the areas planted with eucalyptus, which he called the “root of the problem of forest fires.” According to Blanco, the area of tree plantations in Galicia has multiplied by five in the last years. This has been the consequence of a clear strategy to convert the land into industrial production of timber to supply the paper mill of ENCE Energía y Celulosa in Pontevedra.
Unfortunately, Alberte Blanco’s call was not heard, and last March, the Galician forests in Spain started burning again.
The introduction of pine and eucalyptus monocultures in Spain dates back to the time of the dictatorship of Franco who created the national pulp company Empresa Nacional de Celulosas de España (ENCE) which was later privatised. Since the creation of ENCE, most of the reforestation activities were aimed to maximise the production of timber, and focused on two highly flammable species: pine and eucalyptus.
As the biologist Xabier Vázquez Pumariño put it in a newspaper interview: “They have created an absolutely flammable scenario.” The vicious cycle of plantations and fires has been informally named the “industry of fire” in Galicia, where even monitoring and extinguishing of forest fires and the reforestation that follows is part of the profit making – sometimes even supported by EU funds.
As highlighted in the recent publication released by the EPN, A Burning Issue, in a world increasingly affected by longer and hotter dry seasons, landscape-scale industrial plantations become an unexpected factor of fire multiplication. The discussion document compiles information and concerns about how these monoculture plantations for pulp and timber are increasingly becoming a public threat on a global scale.