The EIB gives a boost to Castilla La Mancha’s forests
In 2010, the EIB granted a EUR 100 million loan to Gestión Ambiental de Castilla La Mancha S.A (GEACAM) to strengthen this public company’s campaign of forest fire fighting and prevention activities for 2009-2012. The loan has already allowed GEACAM to rehabilitate a significant part of the forests in El Rodenal which had been destroyed by a major outbreak of fire in 2005.
Across the Mediterranean, risk of wildfires, including forest fires, is increasing. Though highest-risk countries have greatly improved their fire suppression resource, Spain still experienced some 21,600 fires per year between 2000 and 2005, affecting some 141,800 ha annually.
Castilla La Mancha, for its part, with just over 3.5 million hectares of forest covering approximately 45% of its total area, experienced between 450-700 outbreaks of fire per year, affecting between 6,000 and 23,000 ha annually. 15-60% of this area is forest.
Though this region is quite well served by emergency fire-fighting capacity, new approaches to forest fire defence are required to improve the strategies of prevention and suppression. Those techniques include mechanical and manual clearance, manual pruning, restricted burning, controlled grazing and the use of herbicides.
A programme based on four axes: improved fire fighting and prevention techniques, forest rehabilitation, new afforestation and public education
Thanks to the EIB, from 2009 onwards, silvicultural fire prevention measures – such as developing fire breaks to prevent fire spread; targeted managed burning to reduce risk of uncontrolled outbreaks – have thus been implemented in the region on some 10,000 ha of land, and flammable forest residues have been manually removed from approximately 7,000 ha. In Castilla-La Mancha, manual clearance is indeed a particularly appropriate technique because of the difficulty in accessing many of the sites with large machinery and because of the added benefit on employment.
Besides, whereas fire-fighting activities to date have only targeted the summer period, the new programme will support the expansion of the work of the forest fire-fighting brigades to cover preventative activities such as clearing the undergrowth away during the winter.
The EIB’s support to GEACAM will also include purchase of equipment and materials such as fire engines, protective gear for fire-fighters, communication equipment and investments in the helicopter bases.
Another important element of the programme is the rehabilitation of damaged forests in El Rodenal, Guadalajara province, which suffered serious fire damage in 2005. The EIB is supporting the authorities’ rehabilitation plan including replanting of 5,110 ha of forest, road improvements, phytosanitary treatment to reduce disease risk and fire risk for the new trees as well as plantation of ‘rebollar’ oak trees considered more valuable in conservation terms on 1,140 ha of land.
Supporting long-term environmental priorities and employment
Given that public education is an essential component of reducing fire risk, eight new interpretative centres will be created to facilitate public education about forests and raise awareness of the value of the region’s park areas. Each centre will be approximately 600 m2 in size and will contain a permanent exhibition, temporary exhibition space, audiovisual facilities and an area for a library and services. To date, 4 are up and running. They attract an important number of visitors both scheduled tours of schools and tourists during the weekends.
Over the course of the four-year period of implementation, the programme will generate nearly 2000 full time jobs. In the longer term, the EIB operation will secure the existing posts within the organisation (around 3000 full time jobs, of which 2500 with a permanent contract). In addition, when GEACAM’s new fire-fighting facilities become operational, they will operate all year round instead of 10 months only per year at present, representing a shift towards more highly-skilled, secure jobs.