January 11, 2013

Portuguese forests in numbers: a worrisome vision.

Over the last decades, the economic value of forests in Portugal has know a progressive decline, with several consequences on social and environmental levels.

Since 1996, it was diagnosed (Poyry, BPI, Agro.ges) that forests in Portugal have shown clear evidence of underutilization and over-exploitation. This diagnosis has worsened year after year.

At the current moment of crisis, the financial value of exports appears to be the more relevant factor for the government and for the economic analysts, however there is great concern about its impact on the degradation of natural resources that, though renewables, need measures to ensure their sustainability, both from an environmental and social, but also economic standpoint.

The current figures related to the forests and forestry in Portugal, based on the official statistics and credible sources, are worrisome:

67% represents the decrease in the weight of the Gross Value Added (GVA) of forestry in national GVA, i.e., 1.2% in 1990 fell to 0.4% in 2010
(Source: Statistics Portugal, 2012)

40% reflects the reduction of the impact of the forest cluster on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2000 (3%) to 2010 (1.8%).
(Source: GPP - Office for Planning and Policy, Ministry of Agriculture, 2012).

1.500.000 hectares is the estimated area of ​​abandoned soils in Portugal. This area corresponds to 43% of the total forest surface and to 17% of the national land area. 
(source. Secretary of State for Forests and Rural Development, 2012)

1.500.000 hectares correspond to the burned forest area accumulated over the last decade (2002/2012). This cumulative area corresponds to 43% of the total forest area in Portugal and 17% of the national land area. 
(Source: ICNF - Institute for Conservation of Nature and Forestry, 2012)

74.200.000 Euros correspond to the amount spent on direct combat of forest fires in 2012, 10.3% more than the amount spent in 2011. 
(source: ANPC - National Authority for Civil Protection, 2012). Euros/year is the estimated cost of forest fires in Portugal, both on economy and environmental perspectives 
(Manifesto for Forest against crisis, 2012).

2.400.000 tons of CO2 eq were emitted to the atmosphere in the last decade, according to PCS (a Portuguese think tank), as a result of forest fires. 
(PCS Report, 2012). 
However, scientific studies estimate values ​​10 times higher than those reported by PCS.

5.700.000 oil barrels is more than the equivalent of that wasted with the forest fires in the last decade. 
(PCS Report, 2012).

35% was the average percentage related to the distribution of burned forest area, recorded by Portugal, between 2000 and 2009, compared to the set of 5 countries of Southern Europe.

100% reflects the increase of eucalyptus area in the last 30 years. Data related to the last Forest Inventory is not yet available, however it is estimated that eucalyptus plantations in Portugal, which ranks fifth in the world, have increased by more than 400 thousand hectares. This positive evolution occurs in spite of the facts that the abandonment of eucalypt forest management is higher and the annual productivity average has experienced no changes since 1928 (currently 10 cubic meters per hectare and year).

700.000.000 Euros was the amount of funding spent on support for forestation, for only one woody species, over the past 20 years. This value could have boosted 350 thousand new hectares of this species; however the same species lost around 400 thousand hectares during this period. Could the public funds applied to support forestation have boosted the "industry” of forest fires in Portugal?

16 years is the period of time since the unanimous approval, in the Portuguese Parliament, of the Law on Forest Policy, published in August 1996. However, after this period the law has not yet been regulated in its core measures. The regulatory process has already gone through the mandates of seven different ministers.

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