Experts say controlled burns vital for health of Mexico’s forests

Guadalajara, Mexico, Jun 17 (EFE).- Amid a heat wave blamed so far for eight deaths across Mexico, the country’s foremost experts in forest management told EFE that controlled burns contribute to the health of woodlands and make them better able to adapt to climate change.

The forests have existed for thousands of years in an environment of naturally generated fires, Gabriel Vazquez Sanchez, director of the Bosque La Primavera biosphere reserve in the western state of Jalisco, said.

Managed properly, fires spur a renewal of nutrients and soil layers while limiting the penetration of some invasive species of vegetation and creating more space for birds, he said.

Confirmation of the benefits can be found in 35 years of observations by the staff at the Las Joyas Scientific Station in Jalisco’s Sierra de Manantlan reserve.

“We see that increasing the diversity of grasses and bushes in the places where we have done a burn, the doves arrive because the plants they feed on have new growth, the hummingbirds use the nectar that the flowers produce and there are other plants that feed the deer,” researcher Enrique Jardel said.

A woodland ecosystem that goes between six and 10 years without a burn builds up enough combustible material to make a massive blaze a possibility at any moment.

Conversely, a regime of controlled burns makes a forest more resistant to damage from an unplanned fire.

“To have a program that analyzes the characteristics of the forest, the places where the most fuel accumulates, to run prediction models that tell us where to burn, gives us very valuable information for prevention,” Jardel said.

In recent years, protected areas such as Bosque La Primavera and Sierra de Manantlan have been dealing with encroachment in the forms of urban sprawl and the expansion of agriculture, which has resulted in more unplanned fires.

“Due to the integration of human settlements near the forest, that cycle has been broken. Hence, we can have very intense fires, as well as climate conditions in which he have had severe drought,” Jalisco’s natural resource chief, Juan Jose Llamas, told EFE.

The intrusions rob the forest of the possibility of renewal.

“Instead of its recovering, someone establishes an avocado plantation or a housing development, so there is no regeneration of the forest,” Jardel said.

With rising temperatures, coping with fire will be fundamental to preserving forests.

“We are moving toward the management of fire as an inherent element of the forest,” Vazquez Sanchez said. EFE gdl/dr

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