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The Management of Forest Fires in Protected Areas in Portugal

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The designation of protected areas by a number of governments around the world is meant to safeguard and promote ecological diversity and to preserve natural and cultural resources through legal instruments and other regulations. Forest fire hazards which may affect such areas contribute to the degradation of the landscape, the destruction of specific ecosystems, and change in the areas affected in terms of their ecological and economic value. In addition to these consequences, forest fires contribute to global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

In Portugal, despite prevention and emergency measures which have been implemented over the last few years, recent data suggest that there has been an increase in fire severity in protected areas. The consequences, namely in terms of biodiversity loss, are not always assessed, but they are certainly important, since in 2005, for instance, 35% of the area burned was identified as Área Prioritária Para a Conservação da Natureza (Priority Area for Nature Conservation).

Through a questionnaire survey sent out by e-mail to all protected areas in Portugal, the author of the present study attempted to identify the main characteristics of forest fire management policies as far as protected areas are concerned and to analyze the integration of these policies in the overall national policy of forest protection against fires established in 2006 (Resolution of the Council of Ministers 65/2006 of the 26th of May).

The questionnaire, which contained a total of 50 questions, was meant to elicit information on the following issues related to national policy:

• dimension and causes of forest fires;

• fire prevention measures;

• fire surveillance;

• fire suppression and recovery of burned areas.

A total of 28 questionnaires were sent to all parks, protected landscapes and natural reserves (Table 15-1). We excluded from the study the remaining protected areas, including natural monuments and private protected areas, which are commonly named “sites of biological interest,” since these areas are, in principle, less vulnerable to forest fires. Only 15 of the 28 questionnaires were returned, representing a coverage ratio of 54%. Still, the returned questionnaires represent 83% of the number of forest fires and 94% of total burned areas. Thus we can consider the sample as significant.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2008

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