FOREST FIRES IN THE ALPS: State of knowledge, future challenges and options for an integrated fire management
In the last years, intensity of wildfires and burned areas have increased around the world due to the anthropogenic climate change. Recent forest fire events proved quite well that forest fires are also an urgent issue in the Alpine region which can lead to the destruction of protection forests, increasing vulnerability to natural hazards and resulting in high costs up to millions of euros for one fire. Forest fire frequency and severity will likely increase in the future due to climate change, more recreational use of forests and changing forest management. Especially protection forests dominated by coniferous tree species on southern slopes are at risk. The impacts of forest fires can lead to new avalanche-prone slopes, a higher risk of rockfall, mudslides or soil erosion. Furthermore, costs of firefighting, restoration of forests and necessary protective measures can seriously rise.
In the context of the EUSALP - EU Strategy for the Alpine Region, the Action Group 8 is aiming to improve risk management and adapting governance mechanisms by enhancing and valorizing existing cooperation structures. The identification of good practice solutions in tackling climate change is one of the major activities. In this context, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (BMLRT) has launched the project “Forest fires in the Alps: State of knowledge and future challenges” in cooperation with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU), and the members of Action Group 8.
A panel on forest fires experts was established, followed by the design and implementation of a multi-lingual online survey. Scientists, authorities and members of action forces of all EUSALP member states (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Switzerland) contributed to the survey. Based on the results of the survey, the processes, legal bases and major challenges in forest fire prevention, suppression and post-fire management in the Alpine region were identified. In June 2019, a forest fire workshop was held in Vienna in order to identify success stories on fire management and to discuss the major elements of an integrated fire management for the Alpine region.