Rome, Italy, 1-5 March 1999
Seventy-one participants from thirty three countries and thirteen international
organisations, drawn from many different sectors including the private
sector and NGOs, and representing a wide range of land use and other disciplines,
met at FAO Headquarters from 28 to 30 October 1998 to:
REPORT OF MEETING ON PUBLIC POLICIES AFFECTING FOREST FIRES
This report is based on the outputs of the meeting.
identify, analyse and discuss the public policies which contribute to forest
collate information from institutions dealing with forest fires;
produce recommendations on planning and policies for fire prevention, control,
mitigation, rehabilitation measures;
provide a strong message to member countries through FAO (as neutral forum)
on policy issues related to fire;
suggest actions to be taken by countries through a statement to the forestry
ministers who will meet in Rome in March 1999.
1. Nearly all countries, in every stage of economic development, and in
every eco-region, are suffering the environmental, social and economic
consequences of forest fires. These consequences have broader implications
beyond the forest itself and beyond national boundaries, including tragic
impacts on human health and lives. The recent occurrences of drought associated
with the El Niño phenomenon have brought the effects of forest fires
to the world's attention.
2. But the effects of fires are not all negative. Fire is a natural
process that influences and is integral to many ecosystems which have evolved
in response to the effects of fire. Traditional knowledge of fire as a
tool is deeply embedded in the cultures of developing and developed countries
alike. Fire is still essential for land clearing to meet the food requirements
of most developing countries and as part of their development process,
while in other countries fire is used to achieve a wide variety of resource
3. Reconciling the positive roles of fire as a servant of humankind
and the negative effects if fire becomes the master are among the important
challenges to policy makers in sustainable forest and land use management.
II. PRESENT SITUATION
4. The present situation of national policy development in response to
wildfires is often of ad hoc reaction to a situation that has already
developed, rather than proactive mitigation before the emergency arises.
Frequently policy development does not consider the underlying causes of
fire incidence and spread which may lie outside the forest sector, such
as rural poverty and deprivation, or the effects of other public policies
related to land use and incentives. Sometimes forest fire incidence and
spread may be caused by ill-conceived forest management policies, in particular
policies of total fire exclusion that have led to fuel accumulation and
catastrophic fire outbreaks.
5. In general, land-use policy development is seldom based on reliable
data or information on the implications of forest fire extent or causes,
nor has it involved consultative or participatory processes with those
most closely involved and affected. Even where policies linked to reducing
the incidence and damage of forest fires are in place, there may be institutional
weaknesses that do not allow them to be enforced, arising from shortage
of public funding due to political instability or economic weaknesses.
III. PRELIMINARY ACTION NEEDED TO DEVELOP PUBLIC
POLICIES RELATED TO FIRE MANAGEMENT AND SUSTAINABLE LAND USE PRACTICES
6. There is a need for reliable and up to date systems for national, regional
and global fire reporting, analysis and storage of data. Such data, and
information on fire causes and socio-economic and environmental effects,
are required as a sound basis for policy making. Linked to these is the
requirement for international agreement on terms and definitions as a basis
for information-sharing and communication.
7. Information on resource management alternatives and their consequences
is essential for involvement of all stakeholders in policy formulation
IV. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO MEMBER
COUNTRIES REGARDING THE PRINCIPLES FOR POLICIES FOR SUSTAINABLE LAND OR
FOREST USE RELATED TO THE REDUCTION, MITIGATION AND CONTROL OF WILDFIRES
AND THE USE OF PRESCRIBED FIRES
8. No single formula can cover the wide range of ecological, socio-economic,
and cultural conditions that exist between and within regions, nor the
different objectives that different societies will decide. But there exist
certain broad principles common to all situations and objectives, which
include the following:
9. Some technical aspects may support policy formulation and implementation.
The formulation of national and regional policies specifically addressing
forest fires, as an integral component of land-use policies, where they
previously did not exist.
Flexibility in policy implementation, and the capability to review and
revise fire-related policies.
Clear and measurable policy objectives and implementation strategies are
needed to minimise the many adverse effects of uncontrolled fires and to
maximise the benefits from fire prevention, or from the controlled use
of fire. Such objectives and implementation strategies would provide for
sustainable land use practices, compatible inter-sectoral policies, joint
fire management responsibilities at the community level, and the participation
of the private sector and NGOs.
Involvement of all stakeholders in policy development, especially through
devolved or community forestry approaches. Recognition by decision-makers
that sustainable land management may in many instances only be attained
through devolution of control of forest resources and the involvement of
the communities adjacent to or within forest in all aspects of management
and fire protection. Such devolved approaches will require the revision
of existing policies and laws and introduction of appropriate land-tenure
arrangements to provide incentives for equitable local/community based
participation in forest management and fire protection and control.
A favourable policy environment must be created for all aspects of systematic
fire management (prevention, detection, suppression, prescribed fire, post-fire
rehabilitation etc.) and for an appropriate balance between prevention,
suppression and prescribed fire use, based on local conditions. Such an
environment should attempt to quantify the monetary and non-market values
in order to emphasise the costs and benefits to society and to decision-makers.
Policies are required for other forms of land-use, in particular credit
policies should encourage land-use options that do not further contribute
Policies that tend to increase forest fires must consider public health
effects. Policies concerned with maintaining the health of ecosystems that
are fire-adapted may have to balance public health and forest health issues.
Land-use policies may have to consider the need for appropriate incentives
and subsidies to promote fire prevention.
10. New technologies offer the means to introduce new and more environmentally
and socially acceptable land use management policies; particular attention
is drawn to "zero-burning" land clearing techniques.
Systematic or Integrated Fire Management
devote more human and financial resources on fire prevention than at present
in order to reduce the subsequent need and expense for fire suppression;
policies should promote and regulate prescribed fire for a variety of land
management purposes, including the reduction of hazardous fuels, and should
promote public understanding of the purposes of prescribed burning1;
policies should define the process whereby fire management plans are developed
to achieve the resource management objectives of conservation units;
develop educational, extension, and public awareness programmes on fire
in general and on policy-related matters in particular, appropriate to
the needs of various stakeholders;
vigorous training programmemes in all aspects of fire management and at
all levels including volunteer community fire-fighting brigades and the
training of farmers in safe fire use;
integration of fire management planning with inter-sectoral resource planning;
encourage silvicultural practices that sustain healthy ecosystems which
in turn reduce the impacts of fires;
develop policies for a fire command structure that clearly delineates authorities
and responsibilities of the various agencies involved;
considering the threat from fires burning in radioactively contaminated
vegetation a special fire management programmeme must be developed for
the radioactively contaminated regions in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus with
high priority. This would include also careful recording of data and experience
for any future similar emergency.
encourage fire management cost-sharing among all relevant stakeholders
at all levels
develop inter-sectoral co-operation at national and local levels
develop international agreements that facilitate the exchange of expertise
develop capacity building in fire management
salvage useable resources following fires;
encourage natural recovery through protection whenever possible for the
purpose of maintaining genetic integrity;
undertake re-stocking where necessary;
restore the infrastructure and rehabilitate local communities.
11. Fire research at national and regional levels needs to be strengthened
in order to support development of fire policies and fire management capabilities,
especially related to investigations into socio-economic and cultural aspects
of fire outbreaks. Fire research is needed into a number of topics:
12. Existing accumulated experience should not be neglected, and local
indigenous knowledge should be acquired on traditional fire related cultures
and customs as a guide for fire management practices and policies.
the development of new dedicated space-borne remote sensing technologies
for improving decision support in fire management including sensor technologies
for fire detection and early warning of fire.
post-fire recovery techniques and fire effects and ecosystem recovery processes.
the impact of climate change on fire regimes and fire severity.
13. Evaluation systems should be developed to assess fire damage and
benefits and to draw attention to the true costs and benefits of fires.
14. Policies and techniques that aim to increase agricultural productivity,
while providing and enforcing disincentives for reckless programmemes,
will slow forest conversion for unsustainable agriculture and will thus
reduce forest fire damage.
V. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO FAO AND
15. There are many international organisations, including FAO, other UN-agencies
and NGOs, involved in forest fire-related activities at global and regional
levels. Continued and improved collaboration and co-ordination are urged.
16. Transboundary or regional agreements for collaboration in fire management
need to be developed, with the technical and financial support of international
17. International organisations are further urged to support the design
and implementation of a global fire inventory or reporting system, in close
collaboration with the fire science community and end-users. An internationally
harmonised fire management terminology is required to support such global
or regional fire reporting systems.
18. A global fire information system is needed to provide immediate
access to real-time data and information on current fires, archived information,
and other sources which are needed by countries to develop fire management
programmemes, increase preparedness and respond to outbreaks at national,
regional and global levels.
19. FAO and other international organisations should play a catalytic
role in the establishment of networks, to promote the sharing of information
and knowledge and technical co-operation between developing countries.
Sufficient resources should be allocated for these purposes.
20. Guidelines and codes of practice for fire prevention and control
are also required, not only in the forest sector but in any sector that
could impact on forest fires (e.g. road alignments, power lines).
21. Technical assistance, from FAO or other international organisations,
is still required, particularly in institutional support and capacity-building.
The perverse effect of provisions of the Kyoto Protocol of the Framework
Convention on Climate Change regarding carbon emissions arising from prescribed
burning in Annex 1 countries was noted. Prescribed fires are caused by
humans and thus count as emissions against a country's carbon balance,
while a disastrous fire that arises naturally because of a failure to reduce
fuel loads does not.