By Erika Piroli, Imperial College London
On November 14, 2023, the Working Group on Wildfire Management of the Italian Society of Silviculture and Forest Ecology (SISEF), in collaboration with the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Forestry Sciences (SAAF) at the University of Palermo, organized a workshop at the “G.P. Ballatore” lecture hall. The event, titled “Managing Fires, Overcoming Emergency, Planning Prevention”, garnered support from various partners, including the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfire, Environment and Society, Strada del Vino Valdinoto, ARPA Sicilia, PEFC Italia, and AUSF Palermo. With 115 participants, including 34 agronomists and foresters and 17 students from diverse sectors, the workshop covered academia, institutional representation, and industry professionals.
Building upon the insights gained from the initial stakeholder consultation workshop held in the Municipality of Monreale, Sicily – a collaborative effort between the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society and the Department of SAAF – this subsequent workshop aims to further explore the intricate interactions between humans, landscapes, and fires. The focus extends beyond the local level, encompassing both regional and national perspectives.
The urgency to address the escalating issue of wildfires in Europe, particularly in regions characterized by Mediterranean climates like Italy, has reached a critical juncture. Disturbing statistics from the Regional Forestry Corp underscore Sicily’s vulnerability, as it recorded the highest number (10 thousand) and the most extensive wildfires in Italy in 2023. The distinctive socio-economic and demographic dynamics of Sicily, combined with environmental challenges such as arid summers and extensive forested areas, present a unique array of challenges. The preceding workshop shed light on the intricate complexities of the situation, revealing areas of disagreement among stakeholders, including debates about the efficacy of suppression efforts and the necessity for improved communication and collaboration.
The event commenced with greetings from Prof. Caruso, Director of the SAAF Department at the University of Palermo, Prof. Maetzke from the Italian Academy of Forest Sciences, Dr. Gambetti from the National Council of Agronomists and Foresters (CONAF), and Prof. Motta, President of SISEF. The interventions of the introductory session focused on the current situation of wildfires in Italy, prevention, socio-economic and governance aspects, and a specific analysis of the situation in Sicily. The first roundtable addressed the theme of wildfire prevention planning. Several good practices were presented, including the specific prevention plans of the Tuscany Region (L. Tonarelli, Dream Italia) and virtuous examples in Sardinia (V. Boccio, CNR-IBE Sassari). The second roundtable focused on rethinking the current governance of wildfires, considering the rapidly evolving socio-economic and climatic context. The interventions addressed the role of Regions in wildfire management (G. Calzoni, Tuscany Region) and socio-economic and political dynamics through a case study on Monreale (E. Piroli, Imperial College London).
Throughout the workshop, a clear need emerged to re-evaluate regional and territorial governance, transcending sectoral management that led to competency divisions and bureaucratic burdens. The discussion, in both presentations and interactive sessions, highlighted how the fragmentation of responsibilities contributed to an inconsistent approach to wildfire management, prompting reflection on the necessity of a profound change in managing such events.
The workshop played a crucial role in providing a platform for knowledge exchange, fostering an environment where experts, institutional representatives, and industry professionals could share experiences and best practices in wildfire management and prevention
The workshop played a crucial role in providing a platform for knowledge exchange, fostering an environment where experts, institutional representatives, and industry professionals could share experiences and best practices in wildfire management and prevention. The awareness of the complexity of the situation underscored the need for a substantial transformation in event management, emphasizing the urgency of adopting a synergistic and coordinated approach involving all relevant entities.
The proposed measures put forth during the workshop aim at multifaceted improvement, with particular attention to the critical role of regions. These measures include establishing a dedicated infrastructure network for wildfire prevention, developing self-protection initiatives to actively engage local communities, creating a zoning map for wildfire danger to facilitate targeted planning, and approving operational procedures to enhance cooperation during major fire incidents.
Looking to the medium to long term, there is a focus on promoting Sustainable Forest Management through the role of bioeconomy and urban planning that considers the risk of wildfires. These proposals aim to establish a more robust and sustainable framework to address the increasingly complex challenges associated with this phenomenon.
In conclusion, the workshop provided a solid foundation for stimulating further discussions and collaborative actions necessary to address the critical issue of wildfires. The call for adopting a synergistic approach, coupled with the need for governance reform, emerges as a key element to ensure effective and sustainable wildfire management. The workshop underscored the importance of continuous and coordinated commitment from all stakeholders to successfully tackle this relevant and urgent issue.
Erika Piroli is a PhD student based in the Centre of Environmental Policy at Imperial College London. Her research is on ‘Policy and Fires – do politicians’ incentives and priorities affect wildfires occurrence?’