Stop Forest Fires Sustainably –

en de pt-br
– Create Water Retention Landscapes


At June 17th, during an early heat wave in Portugal, north of Lisbon a forest fire breaks out that kills more than 50 people. It is the worst fire since more than 50 years ago. However, already during summer 2016 there has been a tragic peak in Portugal concerning fires: 117.000 hectares of forest were destroyed, the country saw more than 10.000 fires throughout the year. More than half of all forest fires in Europe happened in Portugal, which had to apply repeatedly for financial support from the Solidarity Fund of the EU. Each fire means a disaster for people and ecosystems involved. The fires have not only destroyed the economic basis of many farmers and land owners, but also the homes of numerous plants and animals and reduced our most precious wealth: biodiversity.

Although many fires are either being laid by arsonists or the result of carelessness, it is clear that fires are a direct consequence of summer droughts, of sinking groundwater tables and loss of vegetation and care. A well-maintained lush landscape with mixed forests and fields, with springs and creeks flowing throughout the year would not burn down that easily.
In the South of Europe we became so used to summer droughts that we might think they are natural – but this is not the case. Summer droughts are a result of a wrong land management worldwide: of deforestation, overgrazing, agricultural monocultures, sealing of land and overuse of ground water for irrigation.
Some older people still remember how creeks and springs were flowing throughout the summer, how summer storms refreshed the land in the middle of August and how mixed cultures of trees, small pastures and fields were providing yield all year long. As we can see today with some local examples in different parts of the world, it is possible to restore the landscape and at the same time create an economic basis for its inhabitants: through re-establishing the regional rainwater cycles by water retention.

From all the positive examples we gain one insight: In order to sustainably stop forest fires we must keep the winterly rainwater on the land.
One example for this is the Water Retention Landscape of Tamera in the municipality of Odemira: the formerly summer dry property has turned into a lush valley with small lakes and ponds filled by the winter rain, surrounded by terraces with fruit and vegetables growing throughout the year. Instead of flooding the roads and villages downstream, the rainwater is being gathered behind earth dams, infiltrates the soil, increases the ground water tables and feeds the gardens. No groundwater has to be used for irrigation, only rainwater.
If this principle, combined with a modern way of Montado – the traditional mixed cultures of cork oaks, gardening and animal husbandry – were applied throughout the country, many problems would be solved and less properties would burn down.

One thought on “Stop Forest Fires Sustainably –

  1. Thank you for the update from Portugal. We are witnessing these patterns worldwide, and especially around the mediterranean region. As an ecologist and permaculturist I agree of course that some of the fires and other degradation is a direct consequence of mismanagment on the local-regional level. However, we need to remember that the “old ways” that are still remembered where based on a much more stable and predictable climate. This has, of course, dramatically changed in the last 20 years or so world wide. So… “Think Globally – Act Locally” could be a good starting point for this wide and deep discussion. And yes! water retantion landscape is a very good strategy in some places, although there are many more specific ways that have been developed for forest and landscape restoration.

    I am calling the youth of the planet to establish a “moral alternative for war”… a world wide movement for ecological restoration service. I took part in such a group under Americorps in Oregon many years ago. As an Israeli who refused to serve in the millitery – it was a healing and powerful experience, and i have dedicated my life since to working as a permaculture educator- mainly with young adults. May our collective movement for what you call “Terra Nova” grow and integrate with all the other wonderful efforts to make a positive change. Amen.

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