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Agroforestry Can Reduce Wildfire Risk for Mediterranean, Australia

Scot Nelson/Flickr

Bringing together crops, trees, livestock, and local farmers in a land management system based on agroforestry can significantly reduce wildfire risk in the Mediterranean, as well as places like Australia, according to research recently published in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Drawing on 10 years of data, researchers in Europe found a clear correlation between the degree to which land was actively managed and the incidence of wildfire, reports [1] Climate News Network. Examining the incidence of wildfire outbreaks in forests, grasslands, shrublands, and lands managed according to agroforestry principles, the research found that proactively combining trees, crops, livestock, and people clearly lowered wildfire risk. 

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Occupying 12% of the land area under study, agroforestry “was linked to just 6% of the fires,” the news story states. Most incendiary, by contrast, were shrublands, which occupied 16% of the land but “suffered from 41% of the fires.”

Shrublands are a particular problem in the Mediterranean, Climate News Network notes, having spread rapidly in tandem with “an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity.” Left unmanaged, former farmland becomes thick with shrubs and other ideal wildfire fuel that goes up in flames at the first thunderstorm or dropped cigarette.

Crop ecologist Dr. Paul Burgess, secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, said agroforesty could help countries beyond the Mediterranean, like Portugal and Australia. He told Climate News Network the approach works its fire-dampening magic in three ways: by bringing livestock and humans together to keep the fire-prone understory under control, allowing for faster initial responses to fire due to “local employment and management on the ground,” and with planting approaches that often includes breaks between trees that help limit a fire’s spread.

The combination of livestock and trees can also “create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers,” Climate News Network adds.