Soil erosion management must start now after Serra da Estrela wildfires

The fire affected at least a quarter of the Serra da Estrela natural park (20,000 hectares)

The fire that devastated Serra da Estrela and its natural park for almost two weeks has been subdued, but there is a job that must “start now”, post-fire emergency management that prevents erosion.

The fire that raged in the area of the Serra da Estrela for 11 days, affecting the Serra da Estrela Natural Park (PNSE), was considered to have been subdued on Wednesday night.

After the extinction of the fire, which affected at least a quarter of the Serra natural park (20,000 hectares), how should the affected land be managed, and what measures should be taken immediately? Lusa asked two specialists, and they both said that the most urgent immediate action was to prevent soil erosion as the rains would wash earth stones and ashes down the slopes.

This is done, they say, with the burnt wood itselwf, and the work should focus on the slopes. And the river Zêzere should be protected.

Paulo Lucas, a specialist in nature conservation and biodiversity, and director of the environmental association Zero explained to Lusa that emergency stabilisation is intended to create conditions so that when it rains, there won’t be “massive erosion”.

“There are natural engineering techniques for this, barriers. This has to be done, the creation of dykes, using tree remains, to contain erosion and recover the water lines“, he said.

Domingos Patacho, a forestry engineer and leader of environmental association Quercus, said, “on slopes, containment must be done with stakes, using burnt and cut wood, as well as foliage and branches, to resist the passage of water and prevent everything (stones, earth and ashes) from sliding downhill”.

It’s necessary to understand, added Paulo Lucas, that these areas have all burnt many times before, that soils are poor (on the slopes) and that it’s important to protect them and avoid ash drifting into water courses.

Careful reforestation

And then, it is necessary to support natural regeneration. Paulo Lucas said that more trees would be needed, a “careful reforestation”.

Domingos Patacho said that priority should be given to trees that are more resistant to fire, such as chestnut or oak, as well as ash trees near the rivers, adding that one should learn from the fire and diversify the forest, not betting only on one or two species.

The PNSE is an area of 89,000 hectares that covers the municipalities of Celorico da Beira, Covilhã, Gouveia, Guarda, Manteigas and Seia.

Domingos Patacho estimated that 20,000 hectares of the park may have burnt and said that there would be areas, namely the flat areas, where there will be a natural regeneration in the next winter, and that can be managed in one or two years.

And there are slopes with poor soil where the trees contained the land, where the trees are now ashes, which can go down with the water and end up in the river Zêzere, even reaching Castelo de Bode, the dam that supplies water to three million people.

It is in this land that trees are born, it is in this land that it is necessary to maintain vegetation, he observed.

Domingos Patacho, reaffirming that this is a work that has to start now, without waiting for “approved applications”, believes that it is imperative to bring vegetation, namely hardwoods, to the PNSE in the near future.

And in the future, countered Paulo Lucas, it is also necessary to guarantee a lower level of fires because currently, there is “no territory that resists”.

“If it burns every 10 years, we won’t have forests. We’ll have bushes and eucalyptus trees because the pine forest will disappear, and the oak trees, if not helped, will take many decades to appear”. And there’s also the danger, according to Paulo Lucas, of invasive species appearing on burnt land.

It’s a “terrible” future if every five years 80,000 hectares burn down.

Local economy at risk

And of a near future, Domingos Patacho talks about the future of the Estrela Mountain cheese, the future of the shepherds, because even if it rains, “there are six months before there is grass”.

On Thursday, the president of Estrelacoop – Cooperative of Producers of Serra da Estrela Cheese, said that “compulsorily”, there will have to be an increase in the price of milk from Bordaleiras sheep, the main dairy sheep breed in Portugal. And some shepherds will receive straw and feed for the sheep.

The cultural association Friends of Serra da Estrela has also said it’s urgent “to identify the areas at high risk of erosion and physical and material damage” and to create barriers with woody material.

“It is, therefore, important that the entities with responsibilities in this area (ICNF, Town Councils, wastelands, Parish Councils, among others) meet and show openness to the support that our association can give,” said the association.

The deputy regional director of the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF), Elmano Silva, said last week that the post-fire “priority” in the Serra da Estrela would be the recovery of the ecosystem of the Natural Park.

Lusa asked ICNF today about what measures would be taken immediately to prevent erosion and regenerate the PNSE. It did not receive a reply in time.

Source: Lusa