Fire is the main cause of forest loss and damage in the northern Mediterranean. Over 67,000 fires burnt on average more than 400,000 ha per year in the period 1995 to 2004, with a massive 751,798 ha burnt in 2003. The fire season of 2007 significantly added to these numbers. The fire situation in the Mediterranean basin is driven by a climate of long dry summers, with low rainfall, high temperatures often above 30°C, and low atmospheric relativity humidity, making forest and vegetation fuels highly combustible and leading to conditions of very high to extreme fire danger.

Mediterranean countries have experienced a heavy migration of people from rural to urban areas, increases in agricultural mechanization (decreasing rural employment), reduced pressure for grazing and fuel wood collection, and encroachment of urban areas into the rural landscape. The current vegetation patterns in the Mediterranean basin have been heavily influenced by human activities and land uses throughout history. In combination, these factors have led to the expansion of vegetation across the landscape in many places, and to an increase in the fuels they generate, thus increasing the risk of harmful fires.

Changing land use patterns, with large areas of agricultural and grazing land being abandoned and many rural communities no longer relying on the forests for their livelihoods, have reduced the involvement of local communities in forest and rural landscape management, particularly in forest fire management. Local management of forest fires has been replaced by fire fighting systems that rely increasingly on technology and that focus primarily on suppressing fires once they start, with limited attention paid to risk reduction (including fire prevention) and land-use management.

These changes are compounded by an increase in arson and the effects of climate change. Harmful fires tend to take place in summer, when temperatures are high, and air humidity and fuel moisture are low. Climate change scenarios in the Mediterranean basin suggest a future with increased air temperatures and a reduction in summer rainfall. Moreover, extreme weather events like heat waves, with periods of exceptionally high temperatures, low air humidity and strong winds, are predicted to become more frequent and intense in the region.

IUCN-Med work on forest fires:  Lebanon

Background

IUCN supported the development of The National Forest Fire Strategy of Lebanon, and is currently supporting pilot actions that build ecological and social resilience of the local communities. Land restoration through planting native species that have high resilience to fire, a joint fire management plan for all farmers and the setup of a nursery to produce seedlings required for the restoration have been some successful achievements of the project so far.

This project involves multiple activities in addressing the issue through both restoration of degraded forest areas and developing and adopting land-use practices through innovative as well as traditional practices. The project also aims to ensure participation from all relevant stakeholders, long-term capacity building for the restoration and sustainable management of agricultural landscapes and facilitation of enabling policy frameworks.

Process of implementation

The multi-phased project has set up a tree nursery in Lebanon for production of seedlings for the restoration of degraded forest areas. The selection of appropriate native species followed scientific research and the use of traditional knowledge in identifying appropriate species to enhance the health of the forests and fire resilience of the landscape.

IUCN provided technical knowledge to the local stakeholders in order to plan and develop the restoration activities of the area with the help of a specialist. The expert provided knowledge and training to the local NGO coordinating the project, IUCN Lebanese members and other local stakeholders (NGOs, communities, public administration and municipality professionals). Training activities included seed collection techniques, native plants propagation in nurseries and planting methodologies. The selection of native species numbers and types for restoration, and the establishment of the tree nursery were also facilitated by IUCN.