National legal frameworks for forest fire management
V. Mosoti and A. Mekouar
Victor Mosoti is Legal Officer and Ali Mekouar is Chief, Development Law Service, FAO Legal Office, Rome.
Forest fire legislation can assign responsibilities, define measures for firefighting and protection and establish mechanisms for damage compensation and forest restoration.
Currently, there are at least 182 pieces of national legislation throughout the world relevant to forest fires. Of these, some 84 are specific to forest fires, while the rest deal with certain aspects of forest fire management in the context of broader laws on forestry.1 In the latter case, the provisions are usually fewer, giving a less comprehensive framework for managing and controlling forest fire situations.
National legislation on or touching upon forest fires generally deals with the following matters:
Articles 81 to 87 of Guinea's Forest Code No. L99/013/AN of 1999 prohibit the setting of “bush fires”, which are understood as fires on forest land, but allows some exceptions, mainly for agricultural and pastoral purposes. Under certain conditions, preventive and early fires may be used, provided the necessary precautionary measures are taken. Such fires may be used only during limited periods of the year, in daytime and in the absence of wind. Land intended for isolating fire must be clearly delineated, and the neighbouring population must be ready to intervene, if needed, to avoid propagation of the fire. The minister responsible for forestry must provide for the creation, training and equipping of firefighting brigades. The minister can, by regulation, prohibit grazing on forest land where a fire has occurred until the forest is regenerated. Local forest dwellers have a duty to assist firefighting agents in controlling fires.
Forest fire specific legislation. In Italy, Act No. 353 of 2000 on forest fires is mainly a framework law with provision for each of the Italian regional authorities to develop further regulations or legal provisions. It does, however, set out the broad principles governing firefighting activities aimed at the protection and conservation of forests. It requires the regional authorities to approve and implement programmes related to fire prediction, prevention and control, including identification of forest areas affected by fires during the previous year and the forest areas considered to be at risk of future fires. The act specifies forest firefighting techniques and calls for effective information dissemination by the government and the regional authorities to promote sound forest fire management practices. Based on this law, a number of regions have enacted regional forest fire legislation.
In Hungary, Decree No. 12 of 1997 on the protection of forests against fire, issued by the Ministry of the Interior, obliges the Forestry Department to elaborate a protection plan for forests at risk of fires. The decree also provides detailed rules regarding the prevention of forest fires and activities that may lead to forest fires. It outlines special rules on extinguishing fires and provides guidelines for declaring the periods when lighting fires is prohibited.
In Ghana, the Control and Prevention of Bushfires Law of 1990 makes it unlawful for anyone to start a bushfire, defined as the “uncontrolled burning of any farm, forest or grassland”. In exceptional circumstances, the law allows the Chief Conservator of Forests or delegated officers to set fire to forests or wildlife conservation areas for management purposes or to protect against accidental fires. It also mandates the creation of a fire volunteer squad in every town and a Bushfire Control Sub-Committee in each district to assist and advise in the implementation of the law. The latter group is expected to establish annually the allowed period for the burning of farm slash, grass and herbage, and to “educate residents on the hazards of uncontrolled fires”.
In Brazil, Decree No. 2.959 of 1999 establishes measures to be applied to combat forest fires, particularly in the Amazon region. In addition, the decree provides various measures for forest fire prevention and environmental education in order to avoid the incidence of, and to combat, forest fires. It establishes the Programme on Forest Fire Prevention and Control in the Amazon, under which research is carried out on areas with high risk of fires. This programme also aims to raise the awareness of rural communities about forest fire risks and to train personnel for specialization in managing, controlling and combating forest fires.
Further research, preferably at the field level, is needed to get a sense of how effectively the existing legislation is enforced, and of what practical use it has been in forest fire management and control. However, legislation appears to have been useful as a framework enabling decision-makers to take the necessary action. FAO's work in the countries that have requested assistance in forest fire management may lead to further research and analysis of legal frameworks and feed into case studies for the benefit of other countries.
1 Further information on this and other legislation is available in FAOLEX, FAO's online legislative database (faolex.fao.org/faolex/index.htm ). See also FAO's Web page on legal frameworks for forest fire management (www.fao.org/forestry/site/3470/en ).