Putting out fires in western Spain
15 March 2023
Conservation project in Valle del Arrago, in the Caceres province of Spain.
In a hilly, remote part of western Spain, a team of people are busy working with shovels, chainsaws, and other tools. They are performing various tasks – in some places, where there is scant vegetation, they dig holes and plant trees. Elsewhere, they cut trees down and free others from overgrowth.
This is Valle del Arrago, in the Caceres province of Spain, near the border with Portugal. Once a thriving region due to its high agricultural productivity, forests, close proximity to the Arrago river, and wine and olive production, fewer than 100 people were living here by 2021. Young residents have been forced to move on due to limited job opportunities in this relatively isolated region.
The Asociación de Propietarios Forestales Valle del Arrago (the Association of Forest Owners of Valle del Arrago) has stepped forward to promote the concept that sustainably managing the forest can bring income to the community.
Planting trees and cutting back overgrown areas is only the beginning of what the association aims to do. It also hopes to attract people back to the area by generating sustainable, economic opportunities, such as restoration of agriculture and conservation activities. This, they believe, is the key to helping recover a diverse, inhabited landscape.
The Asociación de Propietarios Forestales Valle del Arrago’s work is also helping to create the conditions needed to stop forest fires from spreading. This is particularly important because, in recent decades, without enough people living there to steward the land, deforestation and recurring fires have been catastrophic for the livelihoods of the communities still living there.
For example, in 2015, a large fire swept through Valle del Arrago, destroying more than 8,000 hectares of forestland. This was the push that galvanised local landowners to do something about it. “We needed to find a way to organise coordinated, collective action to manage the area effectively,” says Oscar Conejero, a member of the board of directors. The association was created in 2016, and so far, more than 120 members have joined, allowing for more than 2,600 hectares of privately owned land to be managed collectively.
The aim is to plant more than 130,000 trees over 216 hectares of forest land, including juniper, chestnut, deciduous oak, holm oak, cork oak, madroño, and stone pine. This should sequester more than 18,000 tonnes of carbon over the next 30 years, helping mitigate deforestation and associated forest fires in the region, and hopefully attract people back to live in the area.
“Talking about forest management is talking about the economy, about using the mountains, of exploiting their resources. It is about reuniting the environment with people,” says Oscar. “We want to shout loud and clear that we want to continue living here, we want to work here, we want cultivate our lands, and make use of their pastures with our livestock, we want to manage and make use of our mountains. We ask the governments of Extremadura, Spain, and Europe not to legislate against our interests.”
This grant falls under Oak Foundation’s Special Interest Programme, which covers a wide range of fields, including environment, health, humanitarian relief, education, and the arts. You can find out more about the programme and its strategy by clicking here. To find out more about the Asociación de Propietarios Forestales Valle del Arrago, check out its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/carlosgardelgado/. In addition, you can watch a video about its work below