Forest Fires: Being in the Woods and Seeing the Trees

Forest Fires: Being in the Woods and Seeing the Trees
Fecha de publicación: 
19 February 2024
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There is not much talk about the forests in Cuba. However, about a third of the national territory is covered by natural forests, making a total of between 3 and 4 million hectares. This is stated by Dr. C. Arnaldo Fabián Álvarez Brito, Senior Researcher at the Agroforestry Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture.

But on this occasion we will not talk here about the great benefits of forests, among which it’s noted that they constitute a source for 61% of national greenhouse gas emissions, just to mention one of their many transcendental contributions.

It happens that it’s in these areas where dangerous forest fires mainly occur and precisely the first months of the year, until May, are the most dangerous for such phenomena to occur, as it’s the least rainy season in the country.

Added to the above is that it was last January when the Official Gazette of the Republic published Resolution 59/2023, in complement to Law No. 85 “Forest Law”, of July 21, 1998, to reinforce its Chapter II, referring to the institutional framework and the functions and powers of the Ministry of the Interior (Minint) in relation to forestry heritage.

All these reasons support these lines, which are added to the efforts for preventive education so that the indiscipline that causes the unfortunate forest fires becomes less and less.

Flames on the 23

Last year 2023, 613 forest fires occurred, which reached 13,969 hectares of forests and almost 500 hectares of swamp grasslands.

These data was provided in a recent press conference by Colonel Manuel Lamas Gómez, head of the Cuban Forest Ranger Corps, who specified that the most affected territories in this regard were Pinar del Río (114 fires), Holguín (79), the Special Municipality Isla de la Juventud (69), Artemisa (45) and Matanzas (40).

Of these phenomena, above all, we remember the large fire that occurred in Pinares de Mayarí, where for more than twenty days the fight against the flames was intense, which devastated nearly 5 thousand hectares of natural forests and plantations, in an area precisely characterized by its high plant endemism and variety of fauna.

Although events such as those that generally occurred in 2023 are always painful, Colonel Lamas Gómez points out that last year marked a decreasing trend in forested areas damaged by fires.

This stimulating data is attributed by the head of the Forest Ranger Corps to the early warning and rapid response systems in place that have made it possible to control around 70% of the fires before the flames reach more than five hectares. This result highlights, according to the ACN report, the importance of the contribution of residents to the heroic work of the Ranger Corps, of Minint, along with the joint action of other forces.

Among the good news also stands out the estimate that the fight against forest fires will be less intense in the period that began in January and extends until May given the predicted precipitation levels, associated with the effects of El Niño phenomenon.

Rangers, Heroes in Nature

On April 10, it will be 65 years since the Cuban Forest Ranger Corps was created, whose mission, according to the official site of Minint, is to “Guarantee the surveillance and protection of the nation's natural resources, within the framework of its competence and in correspondence with the policies established by the Ministries of Science, Technology and Environment and Agriculture, as well as other related organizations and coordinate the National Forest Fire Protection System, preserving the geographic environment in the interest of Defense, Security and Domestic Order.”

Their exploits, particularly in the face of forest fires and most of the time anonymous, will be written in so much saved forest, in the heart of the island nature, which is also Cuba.

Belonging to the Ministry of the Interior, the Forest Ranger Corps emerged in 1959, following the approval of Law 239, "Plan for reforestation by the Rebel Army", in whose first article it stated that "The Department of Forest Repopulation of the Rebel Army has as the purpose of conserving, protecting and promoting the country's forest wealth..."

With the promulgation by the Council of State, on March 3, 1993, of Decree Law 136 "On forestry heritage and wildlife", in its article 38 “the Forest Ranger Corps is designated to carry out the State Service for the protection of forestry and wildlife resources.

The Main Fault is Human

Only 2-3 % of forest fires occur due to natural causes, primarily electrical shocks, including rising temperatures and climate change.

Human actions are the main cause of these incidents from burning without taking the necessary safety measures; also due to the actions of poachers and fishermen and the circulation of vehicles with technical defects in the internal combustion gas exhaust system (spark arresters).
Likewise, negligent smokers and beehive castrators are also among those responsible for such phenomena, whose impacts are not only economic, but also environmental, and sometimes of gigantic proportions.

Consequently, prevention against forest fires currently constitutes in Cuba, and even internationally, a government issue, closely associated with the impact of climate change.

The Cuban government's willingness to keep the prevention and constant monitoring of forest fires among its guidelines of work was ratified by Colonel Lamas, who last summer received the National Environment Award, conferred by CITMA.

Such governmental will regarding forest fires is also linked to the commitment expressed by Cuba before the United Nations to fight against the effects of climate change. Which has been included in the Economic and Social Plan registered by the country until 2030, which includes the effort to increase the country's forest coverage by 33%.

Therefore, neither cross your fingers nor blame nature. To prevent those fearsome and devastating forest fires that peak during these months, the decisive action is, according to Colonel Lamas, to increase the sensitivity, awareness, and risk perception in the population. Transforming human behaviors is the solution.

Translated by Amilkal Labañino / CubaSí Translation Staff

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