Compiled by Simona Dossi
1. Do you also take into account the impact related to fires due to losses for society (for example due to disruption of functioning of critical infrastructure – electricity/telecom/transport etc.) or do you evaluate the effects of measures only looking at the direct damages?
Eduard Plana: Thanks for this important question Margreet. Indeed, the same holistic approach is needed to fully understand wildfire impacts: they are economic, ecological but also social. May happen direct cost in wood provision during the forest recovery period, restoring damaged infrastructures, etc., or indirect loses in decrease of tourist visitors due to change in landscapes. Even, paradoxically, the sudden provision of wood (still burnt trees can be marketed) may block the regional wood market (this also happen, for instance with windstorms affecting large forest surface, even at international market level). Also impacts on physical (smoke) and mental (depression to cope with “dark” landscape) health may happen. Some of these impacts are perceived by the owners, other by the neighbors, the visitors, the tourist sector, restaurants, etc., society in general. Moreover, cascading effects my happen due to the loss of forest cover, especially with typically heavy rainfall pattern in autumn in the Mediterranean, quite close to fire season when the recovery of vegetation able to protect soil erosion, landslides or rockfalls is still poor. Watter quality of rivers can be affected. And do not forget to include the positive impacts! Mosaic of burnt areas decrease the fire risk for the next year for instance, or open habitats may create new opportunities. The sudden incomes from the wood (specially in poor managed areas) helps landowners to reallocate this “capital” to more profitable activities within the farm (for instance, in some areas a promotion intensive livestock farming was supported with the incomes of the marketed burnt wood).
To approach this issue, we normally apply a matrix with several axis identifying impacts dimensions (social, economic, environmental) when (short, medium, long term) and to whom, including the proper understanding about how they are cross-linked.
2. For floods often hazard maps (with return period and intensity) are available. However, for fires these don’t exist due to the complex nature of fires and you have to rely on susceptibility maps. How do you overcome this gap when evaluating measures (and acceptable level of risk)?
Eduard Plana: This is a crucial aspect (and, at some extend, a barrier) to integrate wildfire risks into planning. Random distribution makes return period not useful at all. On the contrary, we can estimate the potential of wildfires in a landscape and how it will burn (impacts). From a civil protection perspective, for instance, they work in terms of risk scenarios. We do not know when, but we should be prepared. To compensate this lack of robustness in terms of wildfire distribution, risk scenarios offer a baseline from which establish a dialogue with the actors exposed at risk: Evaluating the different risk thresholds that can be reached (and assumed) according to different alternatives of “living with wildfires”. For instance, it can be “decided”* do not manage fuels and invest in a very good early warning and safety confinements/evacuation protocols and infrastructures, or, alternatively, in reducing the hazards (cleaning forest surrounding touristic resorts for instance) which makes the reduction of exposure neither vulnerability less necessary. (normally the smartest solution should be investing first in hazard reduction, at least the money you need to reduce exposure and vulnerability when the hazard is high. Nevertheless, in most cases the legal frame do not help this kind of trade-offs: fire-breaks in WUI areas are compulsory by law, and municipalities do not have more resource to manage the surrounding area for instance).
*Decisions are in many cases taken by the market (many wooded lands in the Mediterranean are not managed since they are not profitable for the owner) and the limited public funds available for fire prevention. Once more, the most cost-efficient strategy should be to integrate wildfire risks mitigation within rural development policies seeking for synergies and optimizing the use of the available resource, plus looking for additional funds from private actors in the sense of “ensure your economic activity in front of fires”. But, still, to which level of risk you like to live with, should be agreed.
In this article we discuss some of the limitations of the cost-benefit (and efficiency) approaches when dealing with wildfire risk: Plana, E., Font, M. 2015. Cost effective assessment of wildfire risk mitigation strategies. In Plana, E., Font, M., Green, T. (Ed.). Operational tools and guidelines for improving efficiency in wildfire risk reduction in EU landscapes. FIREfficient Project. CTFC Editions. Pp: 26-30
3. For Eduard Plana: what would you say is the (key) difference between a fire resistant landscape, and a fire resilient one? – And what is the role of society in these 2 (I assume different) scenarios?
Eduard Plana: Amazing question and very deep, difficult to summarize. There are still some academic discussions to clearly differentiate resistant for resilience concept (see link bellow). An easy approach is to understand resistance at forest stand level: those “clean” forest that do not allow crown fires, just surface fires. In fact, they provide self-resistance to large fires at landscape level, since recurrent fires will favor these low fueled understories. From fire ecology point of view, these self-fire-resistant forests were created by recurrent natural lighting fires. Culturally, the so common grazing of the forest understory in the Mediterranean is copying the natural role of the perturbation in the landscape. When this human removal of fuels disappears, this equilibrium is lost. Society should decide how to replace this; supporting extensive livestock and/or restoring the fire ecology (prescribed burning and open forest stands with high trees. In both options some kind of fuel management is needed. The so called “forest under natural evolution” as a response to the lack of management is not fully considering fire perturbation, neither assume how this will put on danger the forest and people during all the needed time for recovering the “equilibrium” (without forbidding the high intensity fires are also natural in some ecosystems).
Resilience can be approached in a more holistic sense and under the perspective of how to live with wildfire risk. Ecologically, high intensity fires may not be a great problem in most of ecosystems, they can recover since Mediterranean vegetation is fully adapted to fire. Therefore, resilient landscapes can be those able to absorb and “live” with the perturbation (do not losing main ecosystem functions and services – from provision to regulation – at least up to a critical levels). See previous answer, there are different options to live with wildfires and be resilient, but a social dialogue and consensus should be agreed. Normally, most policies are reactive, they are implemented form a defensive approach while land use and climate change are stressing them more and more, and the social dialogue is not formally conducted in most cases.
4. Is there any public funding mechanism in Spain (or other fire prone EU countries) to help private landowners “build resilience” and make their home “fire safe?”
Eduard Plana: Yes they are, but fundamentally are under the RDP which also is used to support active (and commercial) forest management. According to the interviews we have conducted on this topic, forest owners prefer to ask for forest management (which at least give them some incomes) than for wildfire prevention. This is a direct consequence of the limited funds available. Our recommendation on this is that, if we want to involve owners in building resilience, this should be done with additional funds, and frame it into a strategy at territorial level, where forest owners are providing protection to himself, but also to the land activities and values. And those actors who take benefits form this built resilience, should contribute in some way. There is enough evidence that the current tax systema managed by RDP is not enough. And public investments are basically focused in strategic prevention actions and, of course, response capacity, which are not really building resilience at all.
5. I agree with the importance of the debate “Who owns the risk”. Would you say that forest owners, at least in Catalonia, feel “responsible” for the fire risk? And what is the position of policy makers, in general terms?
This is a very crucial question, thanks. First of all, we cannot answer in a unique way when dealing with forest ownership, there are different types, with different expectations and perceptions of which is the role of forest, and how they are linked to their properties. In any case, first responsible of a fire, at juridical level, is who create the ignition, for these reasons many cases the electric companies should compensate the forest owners (about 300-500€/ha for instance in 1994, 1998 fires in Catalonia). The discussion is form in terms of potential of fire spread, which at the end is much more relevant when we talk about wildfires as a hazard. From my experience, there is not a solved debate on this, of course fueled landscapes are responsible of large fires, but impacts of fires are also a consequence of gaps on spatial planning creating, for instance, WUI areas. I perceived that more an more forest owners are aware that they can protect the landscapes, but resources are needed, since they are more able than society to assume the risks of fires (see previous answer). Policy makers up to what extend do not seems interested to open this discussion, since in terms of risk components, public policies have contributed so far in “building” risk through creating exposition and vulnerability. In my opinion, climate change together with land uses changes will help to open this discussion and move forward to collaborative and integrated approaches where the responsibilities in managing risk are shared among all the actors involved.
6. I think the question whether we ask people to be prepared or whether we should make sure that they are safe through spatial planning etc. is a very interesting one. However, often actions to keep people safe might be unpopular with the community that they are supposed to protect (e.g. asking them to move out of their house, because it is located in an area that is highly vulnerable to a hazard), which is (I suspect) an important reason for why local leaders hesitate in implementing stricter land planning rules these instances. Do you have suggestions for how to make sure that community leaders (political and administrative) make the ‘right’, but difficult decisions in these situations nonetheless? Thank you in advance!
The contribution of local governance is a crucial topic. From my point of view, in most cases there is a previous handicap to effectively manage the risk at local level and is more in the planning phase. In most cases fire risk is not properly integrated into urban planning, therefore mayors must manage the consequences but have very poor capacity to be proactive: risk maps are not adapted to the urban planning process, legal and economic tools are not designed to integrate land activities into the “building resilience process” and in most cases, actors are not aware (since no one ask them) about to be fire smart. For instance, legally, is very poor the capacity to ask to road planner when building a new road to modify the project to adapt this infrastructure to fire risk (to be used for evacuations or reducing the potential of fire impact and entrapments when crossing high fire risk fueled areas. Just the are asked to clean 3m in the edge to avoid ignitions from the motors sparks). There are no fire smart building codes, for instance, only general rules to be applied everywhere which suppose large expenses for the municipalities (see previous answers). This gaps on the planning process are later transferred to the citizens and homeowners (from interviews: “we all pay our taxes, and expect a public service able to protect us, or at least do not put us in danger!”). In sum, participatory approaches and social dialogue can help to make people and actors aware about their role in managing risk and support the social consensus. From my experience, most of cases mayors and local policy-makers want to reduce fire risk, but they also need resources and tools, economic, but also technical and legal to help them to achieve a proper fire risk understanding and smart fire risk planning.
There are some reflections related to this topic on: Plana, E., Martín, D., Font, M., Serra, M., Molina, D. 2015. Wildfire risk communication and governance: managing societal involvement and multi-stakeholder cross-sectoral planning. In Plana, E., Font, M., Green, T. (Ed.). Operational tools and guidelines for improving efficiency in wildfire risk reduction in EU landscapes. FIREfficient Project. CTFC Editions. Pp: 19-25
7. In my work with stakeholder engangement, I experience some signs of stakeholder fatigue resulting in stakeholders who dissapear during the participatory process, also at the local level. Do the speakers experienced this as well and if so, do they have tips to deal with stakeholder fatigue?
Marta Giambelli: Yes, we have experienced stakeholders’ fatigue too and this is definitely a critical issue of this approach. It could be related to different aspects, such as the fact that stakeholders may not understand their role in the process, or the stakeholders may not understand the process. In the first case, the idea from our perspective could be to develop a participatory process for “doing something” rather than only for co-producing a policy or action. In the second case, an idea could be to apply and include the participatory process related to risk preparedness in our case in a more general participating process that deal with, for example, territorial planning, urban development, rural or urban planning and so on.
Finally, some tips learnt from these years’ experience, also with the help of the sociologists are: give the right information to allow non-experts to participate in a relevant way; plan meetings that are “close” to the inhabitants, proposing the planning themes that directly involve them and organizing discussion spaces close to everyday life, in places in the municipality that are considered places of the community; create “spaces” for participation in which the territorial stakeholders – referents of the volunteering of civil protection, associations, employers’ associations, entrepreneurs etc – may have also an operational role, perhaps identifying together practical actions to be carried out so they can feel immediately protagonists of the improvement process.
Moreover, we found in schools a crucial node of the society network and around schools routines there can be many occasions to make stakeholders actively participate to the process, at least regarding preparedness to risk.
8. Do any of the presenters incorporate any types of ignition prevention or early detection/warning technologies as part of their approaches?
Marta Giambelli: Yes, we incorporate early warnings as part of our approach from many perspectives: on the one side, the civil protection plan is activated by early warning issues and messages and so we worked on increasing the technicians monitoring capacities also through the visualization of monitoring instruments in the catchment on an online platform. On the other hand, in other cases we organized workshops dealing with the identification of the most suitable early warning dissemination means / technologies for the community.
9. When you talk about reducing vulnerability, what exactly are you referring to? (I mean – What actions? What can we do to reduce social vulnerability to floods?)
Marta Giambelli: In the short-term, with our approach we could not reduce social vulnerability, but it could be mapped and included in the territorial risk vision and can be managed with preparedness measures, enhancing capacity. As an example, foreign tourists are more vulnerable to floods due to the language barrier, so we could manage this vulnerability by a multi-language communication campaign and warning issues; another example can be related to children that are more vulnerable to floods and this could be managed by ensuring that the schools emergency management would be effective and efficient (by increasing capacity). Therefore, we can say that by working on preparedness as we do, there are no direct impact on vulnerability in the short-term time, but only on coping capacity. However, with a longer time perspective, our still open question is whether participatory process that improve the coping capacity dimension of risk (both of community and local administration) would activate prevention and development measures able to reduce vulnerability, including the social one.
10. Can you speak to how you built a common language between stakeholders? There are so many conflicting goals and perspectives among heterogenous actors. How were these differences addressed without isolating participants?
Marta Giambelli: This is actually a critical issue. As for the construction of a common language between technicians, during the training phase what we do is try to have themselves recognized as part of the civil protection / risk management system, each for their competences and roles. Furthermore, we try to highlight and discover the numerous linkages between the preparedness and prevention phase and their daily activities. As for the relevant stakeholders, the sociologists we were working with suggested a Crowdlab workshop as a starting point during which people with different perspectives and roles (e.g. a mayor, a school manager and a politician) were invited to “inspire” the stakeholders and answering questions decided from them, addressing risk reduction and mitigation as a common objective, each one from their side. Moreover, as has been said also during the webinar, the figure of a facilitator is required to deal with conflicts and different goals: in our experience we worked with sociologists to address these issues.
11. Did the flood risk mapping Marta is discussing include areas that could be at risk by post-fire wildfire flooding and debris flows?
Marta Giambelli: This aspect was not covered in the Valpolcevera case. However, it is definitely an important issue to address and we are now exploring the theme within the RECIPE project.