Silvopastoralism and fire risk management

Silvopastoralism is a common practice in Mediterranean ecosystems, having as a main characteristic the presence of extensive livestock in forest areas. The exploitation of forest ecosystems vegetation give to society ecosystem services such as high-quality meat and milk, biomass reduction and forest fires management.

Traditionally, extensive livestock used to manage the land to maintain a mosaic landscape with forests and open areas, with a high diversity of habitats and species. Thenowadays socio-economic context alerts of the extensive livestock and silvopastoralism regression, with very negative consequences for the landscape and values and services it provides. The reform of the European public legislation that affect rural areas, like CAP, are aware of the regression of extensive livestock in southern Europe. In that sense, people claims that silvopastoralism must be boosted or its multifunctionality: food production, wool, biodiversity, cultural landscapes, fire risk reduction, etc.

In the Mediterranean area, silvopastoralism revalorization is extremely important because the region is characterized by non-managed forests under an increasingly vulnerability to forest fires. This scenario causes that a very few wildfires are responsible of a high percentage of the annual burnt surface. We called these fires as Large Wildfires, and they burn with high intensity and completely out of the extinction capacity of the extinction services, despite the huge investments that governments make each year in this matter.

For that reason, a lot of public administrations are beginning to implement extensive livestock activities to control the growth of vegetation in the Wildland Urban Interfase. This activity is seen as a good alternative to mechanical works, cheaper and it also acts as an environment educational tool. The ways to implement it are very variate, and so are compensation mechanisms. However, successful self-sustainable experiences are very few nowadays.

At the same time, the number of shepherds and animals under extensive regime are in a sharp regression in the whole European continent, being the small economic income of the products, access to land and commercialization difficulties several of the main reasons. To change this paradigm, during the last years a sort of shepherds schools have been created. They have the objective of training young people so they can be able to start an extensive livestock exploitation economically sustainable and adapted to the need of the XXIst century.

To ensure that silvopastoralism can be an effective system to reduce wildfire risk it is necessary to face the lack of shepherds that bet for extensive grazing focusing on achieving fire resilient landscapes. However, to change the situation, it is important first to deal with other topics such us financial aids, payment for environmental services or product valorisation.