The pine should not be blamed for everything

Every summer the debate returns to the same subject: is it time to replace pines with other species? But the answer is a little more complicated than it seems.

In a way it was moving: the dilapidated houses and the charred trunks of trees in northeastern Attica had not yet stopped smoking and the first internet groups for the immediate reforestation of the burned areas had sprung from the foam of social media. There is always something romantic in these initiatives, a natural, human reaction to the unthinkable of a catastrophe that transcends us. Enthusiasm and determination abounded in the comments; and the force against the pines. “Only not to plant pines again,” wrote one lady in moderation, but, as is the case in these cases, even more militant voices had infiltrated:

“Put an end to the vicious circle of pines. Finally stop the pines, NOW !!! “.

The new ecologists bombarded the relevant posts with likes.

Although the debate has been dragging on for years, the zero point of the informal pine demonization campaign in Greece is considered to be the Mati fire in 2018. death. The demonization of pine is due to a number of reasons that at first sight have a basis. Greece, like most Mediterranean countries, is overgrown with Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), the most resin-producing tree in the world. The resin with which each tree is filled is practically fuel, hydrocarbon, which when burned becomes very dangerous, transmitting fire at high speed. 

This begs the question: why do we “plant” pines? 

Forgive us, misunderstanding

First mistake: we do not plant pines. The vast majority of pines you see around you are native, not planted; they are a sperm regenerative plant, propagated by numerous seeds that travel long distances. When a fire breaks out and a pine forest burns, the process of its natural regeneration begins automatically. That is why all these reforestation initiatives are a bit of a waste when we talk about pines. Nikos Margaris, professor of Ecosystems at the University of the Aegean and a diligent researcher of the Mediterranean forests, was the first to point out this in his column in “Vima”: “The nationwide tree planting campaigns and at the same time we are waiting for it to become a forest, they remind of an absurd comedy. (…) Example, the foothills of Hymettus. The scouts go and plant pines and are followed by the KAPI, which reforest with eucalyptus, the PAKOE with whatever it finds, the climbers with cypresses and the werewolves with whatever is left over from the above “. In another article in 2007 he wrote: “We have a mania with pines. We plant them everywhere. In the camps we put them next to the gunpowder depots. But pines have one drawback: they need, they cause, fire. It’s in their DNA. ” cause, fire. It’s in their DNA. ” cause, fire. It’s in their DNA. ”

So if the area has not burned and is burning again in recent years (as has happened in the long-suffering Penteli, for example), natural regeneration is considered by agronomists and foresters out of the blue. The pines have their seeds in the pine cones. Pine cones have thick foliage, more than 2.5 cm thick, which does not burn in the fire. Pine cones ripen to a significant degree on the pine and remain closed for 5-7 years. This results in a very strong seed stock on each tree. Diffuse seeds become the main tool of natural regeneration: the pine cones after 48 hours realize that the fire is over, as the soil regains its normal temperature. Amazing? New trees sprout from these seeds. 

Note that most of the land burned in the last nightmarish days has been burned at least once since the 1970s. In 1977 alone, more than 200,000 acres were burned in northern Evia. Foresters claim that even without the slightest human intervention, a pine forest will burn at least once or twice in a century. Also, with so many fires in our pine forests every year, Greece should be almost deserted today. On the contrary, the forest cover of the country today is much higher than 100 years ago.

One chance

So what is the whole drama about? Forester Dimitris Tsimplinas believes that the discussion has opened well, but we should direct it to specific points. Like, let’s say, enriching our artificial reforestation with other species, more flame retardant (broadleaf). “Even in artificial reforestation there is a preference for pine, because we know that the success rate is much higher. Melikokia, koutsoupia, oak, carobia are much more demanding during the maintenance of reforestation, which in any case is not “I go, plant a tree and leave”. You have to be there for the first two years, the digging of the pits must be the right one to collect the rain water, to do your watering in the summer “. He thinks it ‘s funny to say we’re going to cut down the pine forests, but the National Reforestation Plan announced by the government in 2020 gives us an opportunity to enrich our forests and better protect them in the long run. “It is better to reforest less acres but correctly and with a greater mix of species, than to reforest roughly with an emphasis on pine.”

Former Secretary General of Forests and Natural Environment, Dimitrios Katsoudas, agrees. He argues that there is no need to suddenly send the pine tree on fire outside before first opening the debate on the proper maintenance of a pine forest; a debate we have never opened on the substance. “Experience says that in Greece the pines are not thinned, they are not pruned, the subsoil is not removed” and “subsoil” means the other lower vegetation (spruce, holly, etc.). “Did you know that in Spain during the winter they do controlled burning in the basement of pine forests?” Dimitris Katsoudas asks me, to add that we could utilize the biomass that results from the cleaning of the pines, make it into a pellet and have income from it. Before going into the substance of the question, The former Secretary General of Forests says that in our country only the so-called “noble” species (firs, beeches, oaks, etc.) are managed. “I do not argue that we should manage all the pine forests in the country, but we can prioritize them and make a start from the most important ones. However, we must take into account two factors: the weakening of the Forest Service in recent decades, but also individual changes to which we have not given the necessary importance. From 1960 until today, the pine forest has lost its natural allies, about 120,000 resin collectors, the people who collected resin and lived in the forest and protected it. Today it is a question if there are 1,000 and with the disaster in Evia I am not sure about this number either “.

Plane trees in Sounio?

Dimitris Katsoudas considers the discussion for “abolition” of the pine on the verge of comedy. “Pines grow in areas where no other forests grow. Are you going to plant plane trees in Sounio? ” He believes, however, that there is a basis for species enrichment in artificial reforestation. “Mainly along roads, railways, highways and forest roads, that is, where the forest meets humans and you want to build a fence with fire-resistant items to delay a fire.” 

Respectively, he argues, homeowners who are adjacent to a forest or located in residential areas with very dense vegetation (eg Varybobi, Thrakomakedones, etc.) should be facilitated to replace pines that are very close to their homes with other species. . This implies a change in legislation, as today such a thing is prohibited and needs permission from the local Forest Service. In any case, Dimitris Katsoudas insists that from the moment a new forest begins to grow, its management should be taken for granted, so that we do not reach the same impasses that lead to the vicious circle of perpetual destruction. 

At the same wavelength, Mr. Dimitris Tsimplinas believes that we could enrich our yard or garden located in or very close to the forest: in summer it protects you with shade, in winter it sheds its leaves and leaves the sun to warm you up. So little by little we will limit the pine to sensitive zones of coexistence of forest and residential zones, mainly in Attica “. 

The experienced forester from Kozani also refers to the European program “Urban food”, which encourages residents of urban or suburban areas to grow fruit trees (apples, pears, peaches, lemons, etc.) or to use “stray” olives, while achieving two different goals: and encourages a more nutritious of species with more slow-burning trees. Mr. Dimitris Tsimplinas insists: “In any case, the problem is not the pine; it is that we go and build in the pine and then the pine comes and burns us”.  

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