Citizens mobilize against “giant risk of eucalyptus” threatening Portugal’s forests

Claim today’s forests are ‘explosive’ at the service of the cellulose sector

Little more than a month since the country’s largest pulping company has called for an increase in the number of eucalyptus plantations in Portugal, citizens are mobilising for just the opposite :a sustainable “forest of the future”; one that is not “explosive, at the service of the cellulose industry”.

Various groups have scheduled protests up and down the country for Sunday – based on a manifesto “against forest fires and the role of the cellulose industry in eucalyptus monocultures in Portugal”.

Says Lusa, the protest, organised for Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, Braga, Odemira, Vila Nova de Poiares and Sertã, argues that Portugal needs fewer eucalyptus trees and to “build forests and forest areas that are resilient to climate change; that don’t just serve the interests of big business, but conserve soil and water in the face of the threat of desertification.

“What we’re demanding is a diverse, inhabited forest that has these means of combat and surveillance all year round, nature wardens and watchmen, foresters, notions of conserving water and soils to avoid the threat of climate change, with species that are suitable for each territory and that are also related to diverse economic activities that allow people to earn an income in rural areas,” Beatriz Xavier, a member of the steering committee behind the protests told the State news agency.

According to Xavier, the areas of abandoned eucalyptus in the country destroy the territory, accelerate desertification and are precisely the opposite of the goal of a “biodiverse and resilient landscape, which can withstand shocks like major fires and which does not pose a threat to those who live near it”.

The aim of Sunday’s protests is to push for “a forest that isn’t abandoned, that either you know who it belongs to through a forest register or it has to be the responsibility of the State. The State has to take responsibility,” she added, suggesting “the government has already proven itself incapable of reacting” by keeping everything the same even after the tragedies of 2017.

The protest manifesto has been compiled by around 60 people, from all walks of life and ages, calling for “a citizen uprising against the giant risk that Portugal is running as a country in the face of the climate crisis with an explosive forest at the service of the cellulose industry”.

In a statement being widely shared over social media, the group behind the initiative insists that those responsible for the situation today will have to be held to account: “We have to hold the cellulose companies that brought us this far, The Navigator Company and Altri Florestal, responsible, as well as the governments that rolled out the carpet for them – from all parties. They didn’t stop them and handed them the future of our country. We can’t accept this any longer. The pulping companies have to pay for the destruction of the past and the present.

We have to ‘deeucalyptise Portugal – remove 700,000 hectares of eucalyptus forests – which corresponds the areas ‘abandoned’ (where eucalyptus has grown out of control) this decade, and transform these areas into a resilient forest that can cope with the hotter, drier future that the climate crisis has produced. We have to do this to prevent a desert…”

The perennial discussion against eucalyptus, following devastating wildfires, reignited this summer in the wake of the Odemira fires.

The Lisbon protest is due to start at 7pm at Largo da Estefânia, from where it will march to the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF) and the headquarters of The Navigator Company (Portugal’s premier cellulose manufacturer – the company whose CEO said in July that it needs more eucalyptus plantations “in order to become sustainable”).

In Porto the protest will take place at 3pm in front of Palácio de Cristal; in Odemira (Beja district) it begins at 7pm from the O Cais bar marching on to the town hall and in Sertã (Castelo Branco district) the initiative will take place at 5pm in Alameda da Carvalha. In Vila Nova de Poiares (district of Coimbra), the protest is due to start at 5pm in front of the town hall and in Coimbra at 5.30pm at Casa Azul, in the Choupal National Forest. The timing and location of the Braga event is still to be confirmed.

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