Forester to ANA: Greece Needs to Create Mixed Forests with Imported Fire-Resistant Species

Αssociated Press

Firefighters operate during a wildfire in Makrymalli village on the Greek island of Evia, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. Greek firefighters backed by water-dropping planes and helicopters were battling a wildfire burning through a protected nature reserve on the island of Evia for a second day Wednesday, where hundreds of people had been evacuated from four villages and a monastery. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Greece needs to implement its national forest policy on mixed tree planting, including species that may be non-native but fire resistant, forest specialist and forester of Kilkis Giorgos Vourtsas told Praktoreio 104.9 FM, Athens-Macedonian News Agency's radio station, commenting about the large fire in central Evia that started at a Natura-network forest.

"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."

The National Strategy for Forests which has been drawn up includes these factors, he noted, but cautioned that "if there is no adequate funding, none of these will go ahead." The strategy needs to be detailed and consistent, he insisted.

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 realize that there is a danger" to leaving things as they are. "In this sense," he said, "public dialogue is on the right path."

(Interview by Fanis Grigoriadis, editing by Smaro Avramidou)