Does forest biomass harvesting for energy reduce fire hazard in the Mediterranean basin? a case study in the Caroig Massif (Eastern Spain)
The Mediterranean basin is a fire-prone area and is expected to continue being so according to projected climate and socioeconomic changes. Sustainable exploitation of forest biomass could have a positive effect on wildfire hazard mitigation. A modelling approach was used to compare how four different Scenarios for biomass collection for energy use affect fire behaviour and potential burnt area at landscape level under extreme meteorological conditions in a typical Mediterranean Massif. A case study of Pinus halepensis stands in Valencia (Eastern Spain) was conducted. The FARSITE simulator was used to evaluate the burnt area and fire behaviour parameters. Simulations predicted a significant increase in the burnt area and the values of most fire behaviour parameters in a Scenario of rural abandonment, relative to the current situation. Biomass management through thinning reduced canopy bulk density; however, no differences in the values of the main fire behaviour parameters were detected. Thinning and understory clearing, including biomass collection in large shrub fuel model areas, significantly reduces fire hazard. Forest biomass sustainable harvesting for energy is expected to reduce fire hazard if management includes intense modification of fuel models, comprising management of shrub biomass at the landscape level. Strong modification of forest fuel models requires intensive silvicultural treatments. Therefore, forest biomass collection for energy in the Mediterranean basin reduces fire hazard only if both tree and shrub strata are managed at landscape level.