Forests and the forestry sector
Deforestation started in Spain during the Roman occupation in the first century BC and continued over the next two thousand years and more, to meet the population¿s needs for fuel, housing and strategic materials (timber to build boats). The consequence is that most of the southern part of the country has scant forest cover, without trees or with extensive Mediterranean-type scrub. However, growing conditions are favourable in the north, and forestry activities and industries are vigorous.
With 14.4 million hectares of forest cover, Spain is the fourth country in Europe in terms of forest resources (following Sweden, Finland and France, but excluding the Russian Federation). Forests ¿ which occupy almost 29 percent of the country¿s total land area ¿ are increasing by about 86 000 ha per year, both through natural expansion and through the forest plantation programme that has been under way for more than 50 years, with soil protection and erosion prevention as its main aims. Spain has received funds from the European Union in support of this programme.
The most productive forests are found in the Atlantic coastal zone and are composed mostly of pines (Pinus pinaster and P. radiata) and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), although some mixed natural forests of oak (Quercus robur and Q. patraea) and beech (Fagus sylvatica) are still found. In the Pyrenees, there are forests of silver fir (Abies alba), beech and pine, depending on altitude. The remainder of the country, where Mediterranean conditions predominate, is notable for its wealth of biological diversity. In some places Quercus spp. are found in pure stands, constituting wooded meadows (an agrosilvopastoral combination typical of Mediterranean zones) or mixed with pines and a wide variety of shrubs and scrub vegetation. In mountainous Mediterranean regions Pinus spp. become increasingly frequent as the altitude increases.
Since 1978, Spanish forest administration has been highly decentralized, inasmuch as the 17 autonomous communities are in charge of forests and forestry activities. The central government¿s responsibilities cover the formulation of basic legislation, national-level planning, coordination, foreign relations and certain other forestry issues, mainly falling under the Ministry of the Environment.
Sixty-six percent of forest lands belong to about two million owners, 30 percent to municipalities and only 4 percent to the autonomous communities. However, most municipal forests are public service forests (a special forest protection juridical category dating back to 1850) and these forests are also managed by the autonomous communities. About 25 percent of forests belong to the ¿protected areas¿ category. The main function of 88 percent of Spanish forests is that of protection against soil erosion and desertification, and regulation of the hydrological cycle, in a country with steep slopes and scant, irregular rainfall. The remaining 12 percent are mainly production forests, which produce 80 percent of the total supply of roundwood. Non-wood forest products such as cork, gum and medicinal and aromatic plants are also important. Other non-wood forest products are hunting, fodder, nuts, fruit and truffles. The landscape, tourism and recreation are increasingly important, mainly in Mediterranean zones.
Forest fires are a major problem, although there are large variations from year to year: on average, between 60 000 and 150 000 ha are burned each year, but the figure was over 400 000 ha in 1994.
Concern has been expressed over the effects of global warming on Spanish forest ecosystems, inasmuch as the predicted warmer, drier climate is likely to cause more fires and also the desertification of some zones of southern Spain.
Per capital consumption of sawnwood and wood pulp in Spain is much lower than the European average, while that of wood panels and paper is considerably higher. Spain imports significant quantities of certain wood products, especially sawnwood and paper. However, some Spanish forest industries, particularly the wood-based panel industry, are of global importance and export part of their production. The furniture industry accounts for most of the country¿s consumption of wood panels and in 1998 its exports were worth more than US$800 million.
About 42 percent ¿ a relatively high proportion ¿ of the paper consumed in Spain is recycled, providing a major component in the fibre needed for paper manufacture.
Last updated: January 2004