Forestry observatory pushing for change says ‘government not listening’

Forestry observers pushing for change in the way wildfires are handled say the government isn’t listening.

Two years on from the creation of the Independent Technical Observatory – the brief of which was to accompany fires and make recommendations on how combat and prevention could be improved – the country still doesn’t have a global forestry plan.

It’s a failing that is all the more frustrating considering AGIF (the agency for the integrated management of forest fires) was created specifically for this purpose after the devastating fires of 2017 in which over 100 people died.

To be fair, AGIF did produce a blueprint for the plan earlier this year, but the Observatory and the League of Firefighters lambasted it for ‘pandering to all the lobbies’ (meaning the pulping companies, click here).

These new laments come ahead of the Observatory’s report on the best way to reforest the 13th century Pinhal de Leiria, which was almost totally destroyed in the 2017 blazes.

Explains Observatory president Castro Rego, the importance of reforestation is just one of many aspects his entity feels aren’t properly appreciated.

He lays the blame on a lack of coordination between the ICNF (forestries institute) and local authorities.

After a fire, people ‘relax’, he explained – they don’t snap into reforestation mode – and while they delay, the forest itself starts regenerating, and so the issues of ‘lack of any kind of forestry planning’ persist.

Training too was ‘promised’ but has been woefully ignored. Castro Rego’s hopes were for a structure that would bring together firefighters, universities and all the various agencies involved – but again, nothing to speak of.

“I would say this is the area where there has been least investment and perhaps it is one of the highest and most strategic priorities”, he told TSF.

The radio station also spoke with firefighters league president Jaime Marta Soares who said although he felt training in the Bombeiros’ school was excellent, the building itself is in desperate need of work.

“The school is in a parlous state”, he explained. “There are ceilings that have fallen into offices and some parts that have simply had to be closed off as there isn’t the money for really urgent repairs”.

But the bottom line, both Castro Rego and Marta Soares agree is the singular failing of AGIF, created with so many expectations but so far delivering so little.

Never one to hold his punches, Marta Soares said he would like to know what AGIF has been doing “other than spending money” which is urgently needed elsewhere, like in the firefighting service.

As far as he can see, AGIF is a ‘white elephant’ which “no-one knows what it is doing, nor what it has done”.

When the agency ‘wants to know something’, it comes to the firefighters to ask for experts.

“That shows the bewilderment that’s ongoing”, he concluded.

The issue is all the more frustrating for the fact that the Independent Technical Observatory’s brief does not give it any kind of powers. In other words, it can produce all the reports it likes – and make all the recommendations it believes necessary –  but there is no onus on the government to follow through.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com