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Reforestation: How to Turn the Greek Landscape Green After Fires

Evia forest fire
Smoke from a fire in the forest of the island of Evia, August 2021. Reforestation is the next step needed in all the devastated areas. Credit: Konstantinos Balalas / Greek Reporter

With every devastating fire in Greece, reforestation becomes the second most crucial issue after state assistance to those affected. Former West Attica Forest director Dimitris Spathis offered his ideas about reforestation exclusively to Greek Reporter in an interview.

Last August, the government ordered the reforestation process to start immediately in affected areas, where forests and homes coexist. Large trees were to be planted immediately in villages in Attica and Evia, so that the results would be visible in a short time.

Authorities noted that non-fire-prone species were to be used to reforest these areas. They should function as a wall of defense against possible future infernos. The Ministry also decided to subsidize six wildlife treatment centers in areas affected by the fires.

In a contentious move, a government-sponsored legislative act transferred forest services from decentralized administrations to the General Directorate of Forests at the Environment Ministry. Many analysts, among them Former West Attica Forest director Dimitris Spathis, think that was a mistake.

“We were given a lesson by the Polish and Romanian firefighters,” says Spathis. “It was one that we already knew though, until 1998, when the forest protection service was in charge of the fires.”

But this is an administrative issue. It has nothing to do with the act of reforestation, which is also quite contentious.

Dimitris Spathis reforestation
Former West Attica Forest director Dimitris Spathas talks about reforestation exclusively to Greek Reporter. Credit: Screenshot / Greek Reporter

“Forest fires worse than house on fire”

Speaking of forest fires, Spathis says “I believe there is nothing worse to witness when your work depends on the forest, even more when you love it. It is even worse than having your own house on fire.”

He believes that Greeks do not value forests, despite (or, perhaps because of) having so many to enjoy. “Mountains are so much different, one from another,” he points out.

There are thousands of forest species in Greece, Spathas notes. That’s why fires are so destructive every summer. In last summer’s Villia fire, Spathas visited every fire. “Sadly, the fire department wouldn’t use any of my advice,” he says.

“It is a huge mistake not to enter the woods with firetrucks. And even worse that the aerial firefighting has been prioritized,” claims Spathas. “Aerial means work in terms of suspension. You can’t put out the fire just by aerial means, they are not meant for suppression.

“The forests that the fire destroyed were both productive and nonproductive,” he explains. “For example in Evia, productive resin and woods were produced. The pine forests in Attica are mostly used for protection so they are nonproductive.”

Spathas says pine trees spread the fire quickly, but fire is also the best way to effect reforestation in pine woods. “Pine is a blessed type of tree, found in the islands and in central Greece, but mostly in the Attica district,” he states.

Reforestation easier in pine forests

“After a pine forest fire, reforestation should be an easy thing, as long as it is mature enough with pine cones. Not just easy, but also fully successful,” Spathis says. “The only requirement to start with is to keep it safe.”

The law that required three months before reforestation is declared, has been modified to one month, Spathas reminds us. “Along with the declaration, the forest should be placed under special protection requirements,” he adds.

Some of these requirements should include the use of wooden barriers, log packs and branch grids. Naturally, all the trees must be cut down. “Then the pine trees reforest on their own. In about 3-4 years pine shoots will show up,” Spathas states.

In cases of pine trees that are not mature enough yet to shed pine cones, it is necessary for new trees to be replanted, except for a small part that can be reforested through side seeding.

“For this replanting, a specific plan should be followed according to the needs of the area,” says Spathas. “Not just by aerial photographs and satellites, but by individual special research, after responsible consideration of the ground and climate.

“Now, in other types of forests that belong to the pine species, like the ones at Villia, Evia and Varimpopi and other areas destroyed by the fire, reforestation will be easy,” Spathas says.

Finally, he believes that investing in the forest’s protection service and regeneration will lead to amazing results.

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