My love for trees (V)

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intervista Lassini

This is the fourth part of the interview with Dr. Paolo Lassini, graduated in Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, who told us about forest fires. Behind this phenomenon there is often the hand of man, but something could be done …

Q: Perhaps the best system could be to create firebreakers: strips without vegetation

A: Yes, but firebreakers are not the most important measure. They are useful, but these strips must be handled.

Q: Yes indeed, otherwise the vegetation covers the strips

A: Indeed. This is a good system, but prevention is best. Meaning forest management. The way a forest should be managed, including firebreakers. Most of the fires happen in abandoned forest. Also because our abandoned woods get old and they collapse on themselves without renewal.

Q: The old trees dry up …

A: Yes, but they all dry up together because we stopped cutting them at the end of the second world war. So, it is like a population that gets old and sometimes most of the trees are sick and they dry. Therefore fires occur much easier.

Prevention is important, it is necessary to intervene in the first half hour of the fire. After that, it is very difficult to contain it. If you intervene in the first half hour with the helicopters and from the ground you can contain it. Prevention relies heavily on fire sighting and immediate intervention in the first half hour. After the fire runs away and it becomes very difficult to put it out.

That’s why some regions, such as the Lombardy Region, over the years have equipped themselves with a widespread network of volunteers and air vehicles that are always ready to intervene. Beyond the Canadairs, also helicopters are is very useful to put out the flames.

So we have a certain number of helicopters that are constantly available and others that can be quickly mobilized  in case of an emergency, plus a thousand volunteers around. Well organized. From this point of view, Lombardy is very very good example.

Other regions, such as Liguria, are somewhat prey to a sort of fatalism. I don’t know if it is a form of fatalism or if it is a desire to save money, disregarding the problem.

It also refers to the importance you give to the forest. If all tourism is on the sea and the forest is burning, oh well, be patient. It is just a synthesis, not a moral judgment.

Q: When I was a child I used to spend my holidays in Liguria. I was going to Albissola and it wasn’t bad because there were ceramics. Caricaturists used to come and there were pine forests nearby. I loved going there. But I noticed that from one year to the other, buildings were taking the place of forests.

A: In what years?

Q: 1950-60

A: Laws were not stringent by then.

Q: Shall we talk about the fires in the Amazon Region?

A: I know little about it, but I can tell you something very interesting that I learned recently about the Amazonia. What to do with fires. I was told by a student of mine who became Headmaster of an Agricultural School in Argentina thirty years ago and by Prof Francesco Sartori, an extraordinary person of the Pavia University.

Over the centuries the Indians managed the forest, they used to make small holes correlated with the height of the nearby plants because, in this way, the hole closed when they stopped cultivating the area.

Now instead the multinationals come and cut the whole forest. And when they go away the desert is left. Because they no longer use that system.

We use it now… it is called hole cutter. It means that you can cut all plants – large and small – where there is the hole …

Q: It creates an empty space

A: Yes, this cut, this diameter, must be more or less that of the neighboring plants. Plants are normally thirty meters long. So this area is so small that the microclimate of the forest is preserved. Heat and light enter the hole but the humidity of the forest remains. In addition, all the living beings of the wood can go back inside afterwards. Meanwhile, there is a process whereby the wood remains there. Then there is a process of degradation: insects degrade the wood. Therefore the microfauna and a microflora remain and also the seeds of the surrounding plants drop there. These are the advantages of the hole cutter system.

It is not only Mr. Mancuso, one of the top world authorities in the field of plant neurobiology, who says so.

Q: Mr. Mancuso says that plants help each other. He recently made a wonderful exhibition: Broken Nature. A brochure containing the “Constitution of Plants” was distributed in a stand.

A: Mancuso is now in fashion. He proved that the new seedlings are helped in some way by the grown up plants, through a “root dialogue”. Previously, plants were thought to compete with each other. If a harmful insect arrives, a plant communicates it to the other.

Q: Let’s talk about another topic. What happens when the fires are out? And how could their effect be remedied?

A: When I was younger I was Director of a Nature Reserve in Oltre Po’ Pavese. Not a very interesting natural environment because there was only one species of pines planted by the Forestry Corps, while that was the zone of  beeches. Better than nothing, though, because it was always green compared to grazing and it saved the land from building.

Then, Dr. Van, an entomologist of the Pavia University, invented the biological control. First example in Italy. Meaning that he brought an ant into these woods because he thought that it would have eaten the pine processionary (a highly destructive parasite of the pine forests that deprives them of the foliage). It was the first such experiment on a worldwide basis.

Those days, I was Director of that area and I learned a lot. I had a team of workers happy with their work. I had a free hand: zero red tapes. They gave me the money, I made a project and after that I hired the workers, I bought the equipment etc. Everyone was happy because I hired local workers. I took care of these woods by cutting the plants in excess. I spent – in euros – a thousand euros per hectare to thin out these forests.

I carried the logs on the road. There was only one trader in the area, who paid 1 euro / 100 kg. Then, one day someone set fire to this forest.