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Sustainable cork management reduces the risk of forest fires

This March 21 we celebrate the International Day of Forests. This year, the UN has decided to focus this day on theODS 12: "Guarantee sustainable consumption and production methods". This approach shows the strategic dimension that forests acquire in the response to climate change through the bioeconomy as the main source of carbon-neutral biomaterials.

Among these biomaterials of forest origin, in addition to wood and bamboo, stands out cork, produced in the Western Mediterranean and with different applications such as corks, insulation in construction, decorative elements, clothing, shoes, among others The use of cork generates a complex value chain formed to a large extent by SMEs strongly rooted in the territory and key in the fight against rural depopulation.

Seconds Eduardo Rojas, president of PEFC International and president of the Association of Forestry Engineers, "Cork is one of the most obvious examples of a sustainable value chain in all its dimensions: environmental, social and, in addition, an obvious cultural dimension." In addition, cork is a material that, thanks to its properties, becomes a great insulator and protector against fire.

During the month of May, the cork extraction begins, a period in which, until the end of August, the extraction of the outer bark of the cork trees, the cork, is worked on. This layer is responsible for protecting the cork oak from the risk of fire, as it is a natural fireproof coat that burns superficially in case of fire, but keeps the tree alive. For this reason, the prior management of the cork forests to reduce the chances of a fire starting becomes something fundamental.

Joan J. Puig, president of the Institut Català del Suro Foundation, emphasizes that "in addition to being a natural barrier against fire, corks are a natural gem that must be preserved, since they have a great biodiversity, they are CO2 sinks, they contribute to sustainable forest use, they are a barrier against desertification and they offer us a natural, sustainable product with unique properties like cork."
The reduction of the risk of fire thanks to the management of the cork oak is due to the silvicultural works of clearing, selective felling and cleaning of forest roads.

Patricia Young, doctor responsible for the R&D area of the Institut Català del Suro Foundation, emphasizes that "the cork oak is considered a highly fire-resistant species due to the insulating properties of its bark and it is proven that the effects of a fire are observed at most in the outermost layers of 1-2 mm. After the fire, the ability to resprout the stem and the crown is maintained.”

When planning prevention, it is important to consider and work on three key elements: la awareness of society, the forestry and thepreventive organization.

Firstly, society needs to be made aware of the different attitudes that can cause a fire outbreak, promoting sympathy towards affected sectors or through the training of professionals and spokespeople.

On the other hand, carry out preventive forestry tasks, that is to say prevention activities that favor the control and extinguishing of a possible fire, such as now. create discontinuities in the vegetation, suitable firebreaks at the height of the trees or even carrying out controlled burns in the winter to reduce the fuel in the forest.

Finally, the work structure organized to fight against the occurrence and development of fires should be highlighted. The main objective of the preventive structure is for the professionals in charge to carry out surveillance tasks and detection of possible foci, using means such as surveillance booths, helicopters, infrared radiation sensors, geostationary satellites or mobile personnel in vehicles or on foot; because, once detected, turn it off immediately.

 

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