Goats in Gran Canaria. Photo: Hugo Ryvik
12 Mar 2018

Sheep and goats prevent forest fires on Gran Canaria, Spain


Video: (Above) A Norwegian hiker caught the violent fire development during the grand forest fire on Gran Canaria 2017.

SPAIN: The island of Gran Canaria has entered into an agreement with local shepherds on the island to pay them from 20 to 130 euro per hectare of land that sheep and goats help them clear from vegetation and flammable underbrush.

Text and Photo by Hugo Ryvik, Canariajournalen.no, with translation from Norwegian into English and added fire service related text by Bjorn Ulfsson / CTIF News

The purpose is to clear areas in nature from flammable vegetation, which prevents forest fires. Another aim is to maintain pastures, which are on he decrease, the council writes in a press release.

The deal was presented in the town of Teror on Monday by the Chairman of the Council, Antonio Morales and the chairmen of the  Environment and Primary Sector, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and Miguel Hidalgo. About 100 shepherds were also present.


Inspiration from France and Andalucia

This type of economic agreement with shepherds has not been done earlier in the Canary Islands, according to Morales, who said he was inspired by similar actions in Andalusia on the Spanish mainland and in France where successful attempts previously have been made.

The shepherds and their animal flock are directed to strategic places that the Island Council wants to clean from vegetation.


Variable payment structure
The payment amount depends on the distance to the area to be cleaned, the vegetation type and the strategic importance of the site.

The lowest payment, 20 euros per hectare, is for easily accessible areas with grass. For deep gorges and ravines in remote places, the compensation is up to 130 euros.

The area has previous agreements with 54 shepherds with a total of 7000 animals. These can let the animals grace in public forests, protected natural areas and other natural places, on a total of 3283 hectares.


Not a new practice

Although the use of gracing animals has been recently revived on the island, it is far from a new method: this type of fire prevention activity was practiced for over 2000 years by the native aboriginals on Gran Canaria before the time of the Spanish conquest, and later by Spanish settlers.

Gran Canaria was one of the first of the colonies of Spain, and like other colonies in South and North America, was eventually taken violently from the aboriginals.

By the time Christopher Columbus stopped in the capital harbor of Las Palmas to stock up on food and supplies on his way to eventually discover the "New World", the city of Las Palmas was already a 100 years old.


Difficult terrain to fight forest fires

Because of its African location just south-west of the coast of Marocko, Gran Canaria is often plagued by severe droughts, especially since ship building during the latter part of the last millennium cleared the south of much if its old growth forests.

Firefighting on Gran Canaria is difficult due to the mountainous terrain and the curvy, windy roads. When a forest fire strikes the island, putting out the fire by man power alone is often virtually impossible, and fire crews have to resort to evacuating locals and lives stock, and hope for rain to slow down the fire spread.

Large percentages of the island´s forest can be lost in one single fire during the dry season. On an island with only 200 km circumference, the night mare scenario would be to have almost all of the island involved in one gigantic forest fire. Luckily, this has not happened so far, however, in the late summer of 2017, many were afraid the unthinkable was about to happen when a storm fueled the crispy dry under brush to spread faster than evacuations were possible to be arranged.

One Swedish woman perished near her home due to smoke inhalation and heat exposure.


Large forest fires in the Canary Islands since 2000:

Gran Canaria (2007): 18,972 hectares
Tenerife (2007): 16,820 hectares
Tenerife (2012): 6512 hectares
La Palma (2016): 4864 hectares
La Palma (2000): 3912 hectares
La Palma (2009): 3464 hectares
Gran Canaria (2017): 2700 hectares
La Gomera (2012): 2676 hectares
La Palma (2012): 2028 hectares
La Palma (2005): 1890 hectares
El Hierro (2006): 1466 hectares

(Source: Istac Statistics Institute )


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Published by Bjorn Ulfsson / CTIF News

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