Forest Fire Risk Management and Public Participation in Changing Socioenvironmental Conditions: A Case Study in a Mediterranean Region
Under current conditions of accelerated socioenvironmental change in the Mediterranean forested landscapes, fire is one of the most critical and difficult risks to tackle within the region. This article summarizes the lessons learned from a project based on the participatory integration of qualitative local stakeholders' knowledge with expert GIS fire simulations carried out in the County of El Bages, Catalonia, Spain. First, in this article, a theoretical model—the forest fire circle—is presented in order to explain the reasons for the rise in the damage and frequency of forest fires in this Mediterranean area. Second, it describes the methodology developed and the stages followed during the project. Results show that: (1) the advocacy of old forest reactive management paradigm assumptions and practices based on uncontrolled forest succession can put vast wooded areas of the Mediterranean basin at critical risk; and (2) forest fire management approaches that ignore the crucial role of long-term prevention and local capacity building strategies have failed. In the final section, the content and the specific dimensions of the old reactive paradigm that has characterized forest fire risk management in Catalonia are discussed and contrasted with the possibly emerging preventative paradigm.