Silva Mediterranea

Over 90 years of Mediterranean forest management

Tribute to Pierre Delabraze

By Yves Birot and Jean-Paul Lanly (translation by Maria Teresa Di Benedetto)                         

Pierre Delabraze died suddenly on 12 September on his return from a visit to the maritime pine forest of the Cap Ferret peninsula with colleagues from the Association of Tropical Foresters and North Africa (AFT). He was 93 years old.

Pierre was born in 1926 in Neuville-aux-Bois, on the edge of the Orléans national forest, where his father was a country veterinarian. This rural origin and proximity to forests may explain why, after completing secondary school at the Lycée d'Orléans, he prepared in the same school for the competition of the Institut National Agronomique de Paris, which he entered in 1948, and then chose to continue his studies at the Ecole Nationale des Eaux et Forêts de Nancy.

He left in 1952 and opted for the Corps des Ingénieurs des Eaux et Forêts de la France d'Outre-Mer, thus showing a curiosity for faraway lands that will never leave him, judging by the many trips he has made throughout his life. After his military service and a tropical forestry internship in Nogent-sur-Marne, he was posted in 1954 to Côte d'Ivoire where he remained for a total of eight years, in various positions as a forest reserve manager, head of fish farming activities and teacher at the Banco Water and Forest Technicians School, near Abidjan. This African past has deeply marked him. He will not leave his original overseas body in which he will pass to the rank of Water and Forest Conservator, and will maintain contacts with tropical foresters until his end, in particular through the AFT created in 2000.

He returned to France in 1963, and was seconded to the Association Technique pour la Vulgarisation Forestière (ATVF), founded in 1960 to apply technical progress to French private forests, and later became the Institut pour le Développement Forestier, an organization where several "colonial foresters" were found at that time (as will also be the case in the Regional Centres of Forest Property). He was appointed Regional Engineer in Rennes but with a national specialisation in the use of herbicides in the forest. He is involved in an overwhelming activity to set up an experimental reference network and is making numerous observations on the dynamics of competition between plants.

In 1968, Pierre Delabraze was seconded to INRA to serve at the weed science station of the Centre National de Recherche Forestière in Nancy where he studied the use of phytosanitary products in silviculture. Under the direction of Pierre Arbonnier, he acquired a solid background in biometrics and in the chemical knowledge of available products. It is during this period that he developed a strong sense of rigour in the design and analysis of experiments. He will work in Nancy for eight years, and become the French specialist in forest weed science. His enthusiasm, his critical, sometimes caustic, mind and energy impressed his colleagues.

He left Nancy in 1976 to create the INRA Mediterranean Forestry Station in Avignon, where he developed a research program with a focus on forest fire prevention. In a short time, he will become an expert recognized by many partners both in France and abroad, mainly in the Mediterranean basin. A tireless worker, he forges many relationships in the world of research and in the professional world, as well as with civil security specialists. His contributions, both personal and collaborative, are numerous: use of retardants by water bombers, design and maintenance techniques for fuel cuts, reintroduction of prescribed burning and early fires, pastoralism as a tool for vegetation treatment, knowledge of the water status of vegetation and its flammability, preventive silviculture, etc.

Pierre Delabraze retired in 1984. But is it really about retirement? That would be misunderstanding the character. Indeed, it will continue its activity tirelessly in the Mediterranean basin, notably under the aegis of the FAO within the framework of the Intergovernmental Committee Silva Mediterranea by dynamically leading, from 1986 to 1994, the research network "Forest Fire Management".

Pierre Delabraze was a passionate forester, who remained faithful to his first vocation. Everything related to forests, their conservation and development was close to his heart. He proved it again with vivacity and bite in the days before his departure, regretting, among other things, the profusion in the media of false information and erroneous opinions on the part of self-proclaimed experts, citing the example of the current fires in the Amazon basin. He leaves behind an important legacy that is readily recognized by those who have collaborated with him, technicians, engineers and researchers from France and abroad.

Pierre Delabraze was a Knight of the Order of Merit and an Officer of Agricultural Merit.

last updated:  Tuesday, January 21, 2020