Boscos de Pastura: using grazing for wildfire prevention

Author: Nora Maristany Bosch, XCN

1) Objectives and highlights

Lluçanès is a 368,12 km2 area with a population of 7,713 inhabitants and characterised by an agrosilvopastoral mosaic landscape. The area faces recurring destructive wildfires. To reduce wildfire risk and foster rural entrepreneurship, the local authority Consorci del Lluçanès and the association of local forestland owners have set up an initiative called « Boscos de Pastura » (grazing forests).

They have developed a strategy to mediate relationships between private forestland owners and farmers (both established and new entrants) with the goal to foster the grazing in areas more prone to undergo a wildfire. This enables access to forestland for local herders. Different public bodies are supporting the process by managing the forest and investing in infrastructures to facilitate the grazing (water tanks, fences, fountains, etc.). All in all, this practice goes beyond the prevention of wildfires, since it is also contributing to the recuperation of silvopasture in under-used private forestlands, which in turn improves access to land, creates jobs, improves the local food supply and helps to better manage forestal resources.

2) Stakeholders involved

The leading partners of the initiative are Consorci del Lluçanès (supra-municipal authority composed of 13 councils) and Associació de Propietaris Forestals del Lluçanès (Lluçanès Forestland Owners associtation composed of about 80-90 individuals).

Other active partners include regional local authorities, established farmers, new entrants into agriculture, and the environmental organisation ADEFA, who offers advice for the protection of natural values and resources.

3) Context and levers

Mediterranean forests show an increasing vulnerability to wildfires due to climate change, and extinguishing them is getting more and more complex. Preventing wildfires and diminishing their potential magnitude is thus a key strategy. Extensive grazing in forests and wood pastures helps keep the forest undergrowth density at low levels and maintain open areas. However, the most wildfire-vulnerable areas are those characterised by difficult access due to steepness, lack of infrastructure, etc. – in a nutshell, areas with low productivity or yield. Bringing animals to graze in these areas represents an additional effort for farmers and a decrease in the herds’ productivity, which discourages farmers. The “Boscos de Pastura” initiative encourages the use of wood pastures by providing funds and investing it in infrastructures and measures that improve work conditions and make the grazing a more viable and desirable activity.

Some of the levers that have contributed to the success of the practice are the following:

  • Forestland owners were already organised in an association, which facilitated the concertation work. Lluçanès Forestland Owners represents 80-90 private owners (owning 28% of the total surface of the Lluçanès forest) and is a proactive body, with a good relationship to Consorci del Lluçanès.

  • The project is aligned with strategic plans of other public authorities. Diputació de Barcelona (public authority at NUTS3 level) has developed a Plan for Forest Management Improvement in the area (Lluçanès). The Department of Agriculture (public authority at NUTS2 level) has developed a Plan for the Recovery of Ovine and Caprine Sector.

4) Actions led

Consorci del Lluçanès is leading key actions to manage the forest and wood pastures and to facilitate grazing and to reduce biomass. They implement thinning treatments in pine, oak and holm oak forests, selectively removing the smallest and thinnest trees. Undergrowth clearings, debris removal and pastureland maintenance also take place. The local authority also acts on infrastructures, arranging forest roads and recovering and installing water troughs. They have carried out studies for the creation of new water points in elevated locations.

As for the actions targeted to farmers and landowners, Consorci del Lluçanès fosters the development of « grazing agreements », through which owners offer the farmer the right to use their properties (forest or wood pastures) for grazing, while farmers commit to graze it for at least five years. The agreements also specify the commitment of the Forestland Owners Association and Consorci del Lluçanès. The former provides funds to make some further arrangements to the estate and the latter commits to monitor, coordinate and mediate any conflicts or setbacks that may arise.

The following criteria has been retained for the local authority to support the “grazing agreements”. These agreements must take place on estates 1) where woodland management plans have been implemented during the previous five years, 2) which are owned by members of the forestland owners association, 3) which will support a productive project based on sheep or goats rearing. Both landowners and farmers must fill an application requesting to participate in the project. Decision-making is done by each of the active partners according to their respective roles. Further concertation takes place between the Forestland Owners Association and Consorci del Lluçanès to tackle specific issues. For instance, meetings are organised to discuss action plans, budget, etc.

This is a win-win-win project. Farmers access land on a free of cost basis, which increases viability of their production system. Landowners benefit from the infrastructure investment and the reduced risk of wildfires. The local authority manages the risk of fires while maintaining local agricultural jobs as well as exploitable forests.

In parallel with “Boscos de Pastura”, Consorci del Lluçanès develops action lines related to rural entrepreneurship with local technicians from the authority managing a service of entrepreneurship and a service supporting agrarian and food processing companies. When rural entrepreneurs need more specialised advice, Consorci del Lluçanès appeals to a set of external experts. The authority also promotes local products, including some by farmers that have accessed land through the “Boscos de Pastura” initiative.

5) Limits and perspectives

Since the project is based on shared governance between stakeholders and the involvement of local authorities in the management of private forest land, this practice is a good example of how local authorities can act as facilitators. It is important to note that only 0.3% of the land affected by the “Boscos de Pastura” project is public, with the rest belonging to members of the owners’ association. The initiative is not directly mandated by the local authorities; it is the choice of the private landowners and farmers to participate in the scheme through the grazing agreements. However, it is thanks to the facilitating role and cooperation of the Consorci that this practice is successful. The authority provides tools, information, and data on the development of the forest land, as well as coordinating actions and mediating conflicts.

Some limiting factors that “Boscos de Pastura” has encountered include:

  1. The farming sector within the area is heavily focused on cows. Instead, the Consorci del Lluçanés is trying to foster sheep and goats raising, both because these animals achieve better results in terms of wildfire risk reduction and because this way the local economy is more diversified.

  2. Difficulties in accessing European funds, because of an apparent lack of recognition of the value of forest grazing.

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