Last week’s hurried forestry reforms, rushed through after a mammoth all-night session of the agriculture committee, were a political imperative after the devastating fires at Pedrógão Grande which killed an estimated 64 people and injured 200.
Such has been the public anger at the forestry industry, blamed for the close planting of highly combustible eucalyptus trees, failing to establish fire breaks and planting right up to roadsides, the government decided that the planting of eucalyptus from now on only may be carried out with the say-so of the Institute for Nature and Forest Conservation.
The industry already was aware of the ‘no new forests’ proposal with the prime minister insistent that the forestry and pulp industries will have to be more efficient with the area they already cover. Click here
Both the prime minster and the president of the republic have put their weight behind getting some legislation signed off quickly before the summer holidays so that the government can be seen to have done something practical in the aftermath of Pedrógão Grande.
The agricultural committee thrashed out and approved three proposals in which the current laws will be amended, a land registration system will be implemented to show who owns what and a new fire defence system will be put in place.
The government also wants gradually to reduce the area covered by eucalyptus which will reduce fire prone areas over time. Around half of Portugal’s forests are ‘eucalyptus only’ areas, a tree species favoured by the pulp industry for its ability to grow quickly.
The pulp industry, represented by the association Celpa, says that the forestry reforms have been approved in a hurry and the resulting rules "do not respect the opinion and informed contributions of almost all those involved in the forestry sector: the fifty entities called to the parliamentary committee.”
In fact, Celpa said the forest reforms approved in parliament last week, represents "the biggest attack" ever made on forests in the history of democracy in Portugal.”
For the paper industry, the legislation that has been passed "does not recognise the scientific and university communities, which categorically have stated that the fires are directly related to a lack of forest management and cleanliness of the territory (which leads to excess combustible materials lying on the ground), and an insufficient number fire breaks - for example, 10 metres away from roads and 50 metres from properties."
Celpa argues that fires "do not depend on the type of tree species, eucalyptus or any other, as evidenced by historical facts and explained by the scientific and university community."
The pulp association claims that the forestry reforms will have a "profoundly negative" impact on the entire forestry sector, namely "by increasing disinvestment, degradation and abandonment of forest areas, promoting the risk of fires, banning the only profitable forest species, contributing to the increase of scrub and uncultivated areas, corresponding to about 50% of the area that has been burned in Portugal in this century."
Celpa adds that forest reform "reduces the income of small forest owners and producers, promotes desertification of the interior and rural areas of the country, calls into question the approximately 100,000 jobs in the forestry sector and negatively impacts a sector that represents 5% of GDP in Portugal and 10% of the exports of our country."
Then there will be an increased need for "timber imports, which already represent around €200 million per year," and the topical comment that "the reforms prevent the growth of a forest species that contributes most to the absorption of CO2.”
The paper industry also says that "when haste and political-party interests dominate and supplant technical and scientific knowledge and ignore the opinion of the most relevant, knowledgeable and competent entities in the forestry area ... they defraud the justifiable expectations of thousands of owners and workers and discourage future investment."
"This historical mistake against the forest is so serious that we can only believe in the inevitability of it being reversed in the near future," concludes the case for the industry.