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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal Delays Contested Rural Fire Rules

Updated: Mar 23, 2023


Portugal has one of the highest wildfire-risk rankings in Europe. Researchers cite the same contributing factors: shifting demographics from rural to urban areas; changes in land use with more agricultural and forested areas left unmaintained, and fragmentation of land ownership patterns that discourages investment in forest management.

 

National regulations for municipalities, which would restrict people’s movements and activities during times of heightened rural fire risk due to weather, have been delayed until the end of 2024, the Secretary of State for Nature Conservation and Forests, Joao Paulo Catarino, told TSF Radio Noticias (March 20).


Meanwhile, local rules remain in effect.


Portugal has one of the highest wildfire-risk rankings in Europe. Researchers cite the same contributing factors: shifting demographics from rural to urban areas; changes in land use with more agricultural and forested areas left unmaintained, and fragmentation of land ownership patterns that discourages investment in forest management.


Many municipality presidents challenged the proposed national regulations, the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural, which they characterized as out-of-touch with rural life, an attack on the rights of the populace, an impediment to economic development and inclusive of inappropriate areas.


The Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural already had been delayed once by decree-law on July 19, 2022 until March 31, 2023, with the municipal plans for the preventing and fighting wildfires remaining in force, on the assumption that the methodology of pinpointing very low to very high fire-risk areas on the revised fire-danger map would be discussed with municipalities and intermunicipal communities, reported Observador (February 23).


The Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) changed the methodology of locating high fire-risk areas in 2020, according to the organization. It uses a statistical model based on the location of fires from 1975 to 2018, excluding fires of less than 5 hectares; the statistical relationship between burnt areas and a set of spatial databases, and predisposing factors, according to the institute’s publication, Metodologia para a produçao de Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural de cariz estrutura (April 3, 2020), which was written by pahl consulting in Carnexide, Oeiras Municipality, and the Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Territorio, Universidade de Lisboa.


“This charter is a crucial element for planning measures to prevent and combat rural fires, through land-use planning, forest management and structural prevention, for conditioning activities to enjoy rural areas and for allocating means surveillance and firefighting,” the institute said on its website.


Secretary of State for Nature Conservation and Forests, Joao Paulo Catarino, told TSF Radio Noticias: “There may be circulation, economic activity and even construction outside urban perimeters, in these areas of greater risk, as long as there are projects and limitations defined in regional commissions, which will define these measures by December 31, 2024. The intention of the government is to extend this period so that this methodology may be implemented according to the territory.


“Until then, what is in force today are the plans for forest defense against fires that has existed for decades. We decided to give more time to the municipalities because it is a more complicated issue, and we want to do it with the territory, in a way that everyone feels comfortable, obviously agreeing that the risk exists and we have to minimize it. However, we cannot, in any way, close or prohibit people from circulating and obtaining economic activity in these territories. It will be through criteria and limitations that the regulations will be defined by the territory and by the presidents.”


Jorge Vala, vice president of the Intermunicipal Community of Leiria and president of Porto de Mos City Council, reacted to the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural’s extended delay:


“It is good news, without a doubt, but associated with it, we have to guarantee that we will sit down at the table and have a dialogue, which has not happened lately.


“It does not seem to us that it makes sense to include areas that, in the past 20 years, have never had fires using risk definitions from the offices in Lisbon, without consulting the presidents, who know the reality of the territory.”


According to beira.pt (March 20), Luciano Ribeiro, the president of Seia Municipality in the Serra da Estrela, told Lusa news agency that the “most important thing” is that the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural not conflict with the commitments that the territory have made in rural development, sports, cultural events and relaxation in rural spaces. Ribeiro said:


“We certainly accept holding (the events) within well-defined security conditions, but they cannot be prevented. We cannot, in March, go to a tourism fair to promote nature tourism, hiking, cycling, the enjoyment of the mountains and then, when these activities are developed, in June or July, they are prohibited by a charter of danger or by a completely anachronistic law.


“And the question we ask is whether anyone in Lisbon would like to have an aviary, a pigsty or a sheepfold in the middle of a city constricting their life. There are a series of activities that are related to the rural space and that is where they must be located, respecting the rules to minimize the risk with regard to fires.”


Ribeiro said that the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural, presented in early 2022, was made “without public discussion and without knowledge of the municipalities”.


Last month, Ana Abrunhosa, the Minister of Territorial Cohesion, said that it is “absolutely decisive” that the municipalities become involved in the revision of the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural, reported Observador (February 23). She spoke in Faro at a meeting of the Regional Council of the Commission for Coordination and Regional Development (CCDR) of the Algarve.


Ana Abrunhosa, whose ministry focuses on rural areas, avoided outlining the government’s proposals because it “is still working” on the map, and the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural will enter public consultation on March 15.


In July 2022, days before the first delay of the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural, Jose Francisco Rolo, president of the municipality of Oliveira do Hospital, on behalf of the Comunidade Intermunicipal, Regiao de Coimbra, spoke at a hearing of the Agriculture and Fisheries Commission on the rural fire charter. The Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) published the charter in Diario de Republica, the newspaper in which proposed laws must be published before enactment, by according to Correiro da Manha (July 14, 2022).


Jose Francisco Rolo reiterated that the municipalities that make up the Comunidade Intermunicipal, Regiao de Coimbra, already had issued a public position outright rejecting the Carta de Perigosidade de Incendio Rural. He said that the municipalities should participate in the construction of an alternative charter.


Rolo said that the proposed regulations could cause an increase in danger and abandonment of territories, leading to disinvestment in tourism, construction and agriculture.


Jose Carlos Alexandrinho, president of the Municipal Assembly of Oliveira do Hospital, told the Agriculture and Fisheries Commission that the charter would have a negative effect on the municipalities struck by the Great Fires of 2017 and 2018, which goes against the strategy of valuing the interior, reported Correiro da Manha (July 14, 2022).









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