Spanish national forest strategy published

Government promises reforestation, anti-soil erosion programme, new framework law

The Spanish environment ministry has released Spain's first ever national forest strategy, including proposals to launch a reforestation programme and to create a new national council to oversee forest management.

Environment minister Isabel Tocino welcomed the document, which she described as a policy for sustainable forest management that would fit the framework for rural development contained in the EU's Agenda 2000 programme of agricultural funding and other reforms. Ms Tocino also stressed that the proposals had been prepared in consultation with regional governments, environmental groups and forest industries.

Under the strategy, Spain's existing 1957 framework law on forest areas is to be overhauled, with a new law due to be agreed over the next year. A national forest council is to be created to advise on sustainable forest management and to produce an annual report on the state of Spain's forests.

Other key proposals include a plan to increase reforestation, especially of areas at risk of soil erosion or desertification. Forests already cover just over half of Spain's land area, which is high by EU standards, but the strategy reveals that 8% of Spain is suffering from soil erosion. According to the government, reforestation could also mitigate expected negative impacts of climate change as well as offering improvements in water resources management.

Means by which the sustainable economic and social use of forests could be improved include forest certification, rationalisation of the forestry industry and devolution of control of public woodlands to local councils, according to the strategy. The document also reports that Spanish woodlands are recovering from a period of drought between 1990 and 1995 that caused widespread disease and defoliation. Over 86% of trees are now classified as healthy.

Though welcoming the strategy in general, environmental groups have criticised specific aspects. Esperanza Lopez of Ecologists in Action particularly criticised the strategy's principle of compensation which she said would "allow the felling of ancient or mature woodland in exchange for new and non-native plantations elsewhere". WWF/ADENA pointed out that only 5% of woodland currently has sustainable management plans and that the strategy crucially does not specify how new initiatives are to be funded.

Follow Up:
Spanish environment ministry, tel: +34 91 597 6800.

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