Dealing with dense pine forest in scattered private holdings throughout the Alpilles
This action consists of carrying out concerted operations treating grouped plots owned by several landowners to prevent forest wildfire. The interventions will result in thinning in the pine forests, followed by clearance of undergrowth in critical sectors, and in raising the awareness of landowners which is still lacking in this highly threatened area.
Why should local and regional government councils tackle this problem?
New priorities for the PIDAF (rural district land clearing and development plan)
The problem of these dense pine forests located close to built-up areas on the edges of hill country was clearly stated in the first PIDAF. It is especially serious in the foothills to the north, in three localities: Saint-Etienne du Grès, Saint-Rémy de Provence and Orgon.
The action programmed and carried out under the auspices of the PIDAF gives priority to infrastructure such as tracks (interconnections) and access to water sources. Now, since the threat from wildfire remains high, it would appear vital to devote time and effort to intervention in the pinewoods in order to reduce the fuel reserves.
At the same time, certain parts of the Natura 2000 provisions concerning wildlife should be kept in mind because a part of the area is organised for hunting.
A two-fold challenge of wider importance
The challenge this problem represents involves not only limiting wildfire; there is also a broader social aspect: the northern foothills form the main zone of tree-covered land in the Alpilles Mountains and as such constitute their stock of «green» capital.
This area is frequented by the local population swollen, in the high season, by quite a number of tourists. From the image point of view, it is important to maintain the area’s tree-covered profile.
These two aspects are both of undeniable general significance. Move, they are implications for natural heritage since work to be carried out should further the rehabilitation and the maintenance of the natural habitats and species (strong link with the issues involved in the Natura 2000 document).
What, however, about private land?
The private holdings involved are small in size. Somehow, a form of umbrella representation needs to be devised for concerted action.
Improved care for such woodlands will give rise to refuse brush that, in the light of current concern, will have to be eliminated by flaying. Though public funding will be necessary to cover the costs, this does not preclude a contribution from landowners if some return can be had from the sale of wood.
Our proposal: thin out the pine stands and slash the brush in strategic sectors with limited costs
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur CRPF (the regional private forest landowners association), on the basis of its work on 400 hectares in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, considers the following points to be realistic:
- Thinning (reducing the density of the pine trees) can be done by a forester cost-free if the processing (pulp/chip) wood market is normal.
- The sale of the wood from the thinning operations will help to offset their cost in so far as the money made will form the contribution of the owners to the flaying costs.
- The cost of flaying the refuse from clearing can be reduced through mechanisation and the exclusion of sectors that are too steep.
Initiative and follow-through
Such a scheme will require hiring each year a project supervisor for thirty days and site foremen for five days to carry out the following tasks:
- Lead-in stage: reconnaissance, concertation, feasibility:
- Contacting elected representatives, forestry and wood industry professionals, the DDAF (the Département’s agricultural and forestry administration), the National Forestry Service, fire brigades, the hunting fraternity, associations.
- Reconnaissance, brief landholding study, drafting land improvement guidelines taking into account stands, access and the various constraints.
- Proposal of a scenario for a first intervention acceptable to all those cited above.
- Estimate of costs and drawing up the budget plan (work to be done, grants).
- Clear statement of the proposal to be submitted to all the owners.
2. Effective contact and pursuasion stage:
- Detailed landholding study and updating of ownership records.
- Drafting the detailed proposal to be submitted to owners from whom a power of attorney will be required for negotiations with the funders.
- Telephoned reminders, appointments, meetings and assembling powers of attorney.
Result: a “turnkey” project ready for carrying out: submission to the funders for the practical application stage of a “turnkey” scheme.
How can local and regional authorities intervene?
Signing a formal agreement
As a way of overcoming the difficulty deriving from the multiplicity of landholders, the Provence Forêt Cooperative will function as the sole authorised agent for the sale of wood. It will also assemble the agreements from the owners concerning the payment of the income from the sale of the wood and also the eventual carrying out of clearing activity on their land.
Therefore, it is necessary to envisage a tripartite agreement between the local government council who is funding, the landowners and the Provence Forêt Cooperative.
By such an agreement, the owners delegate:
- To the Provence Forêt Cooperative the marking for thinning and the sale of the wood;
- To the same Cooperative the disposal of the income from the sale of the wood;
- To the public authority via its delegated representative the flaying of the brush from the felling.
All those involved must derive some advantage:
- The owners have their maintenance work done without cost since the income from the wood defrays the cost of flaying refuse brush.
- The funders (local authorities) underwrite an operation carried out in the interests of the general public.
Carrying out the operation
Once funding has been obtained, the scenario will run as follows:
Contacting the landowners
This will be done by the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur CRPF (the regional private forest landowners association) in accordance with the terms of its brief.
Thinning out the pine forest
The felling contract will be given to a professional logging company through the agency of the Provence Forêt Cooperative (by public offer or by agreement). The Cooperative will carry out cull marking (whose cost will be taken into account by the funding authority and born by this authority), the on-site monitoring and ensure the sale of the wood. The thinning operation will cull between 20-40 m3/hectare and bring a return of 122-304 Euros/hectare (4.6-7.6 Euros/m3 on the basis of 2003 rates). This income will represent the owners’ contribution made to help offset the overheads met by the local authorities in the self-financing scheme.
Cull marking will be done tree by tree by technicians who, in this way, will familiarise themselves with the plots to be treated. They will retain the finest pines throughout the plots and clear around any promising oak trees. The owners will be present and involved during this activity as a way of encouraging their participation in the scheme: marking is, without doubt, an aspect that can facilitate obtaining the owners’ agreement.
Flaying refuse and undergrowth after the cull
Clearing up by flaying the refuse will be carried out after the cull by a competent company. A site manager appointed by the local authority will supervise the operation which will be limited to the mechanical flaying of the refuse from thinning along with the shrub undergrowth. Treatment will be avoided in certain areas presenting problems of access and which, in terms of fire prevention, are not classified as priority zones for reasons related to hunting or ecology. In this way significant economy will be made.