Civil society engaged in wildfires: Mediterranean forest fire volunteer groupings


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In fire-prone areas such the Mediterranean basin, wildfire risk means a societal challenge. Governments in modern welfare states have generally addressed it through a “zero fire policy”, focusing on suppression and professionalisation. Such approach provides security to local populations, who in turn may detach from the socio-ecologic phenomenon of wildfire and become passive actors. In the face of increasingly virulent wildfires, local communities are often not prepared with consequent damages and casualties.

Yet, some regions show pro-active locals organising their efforts to tackle wildfires. These fire volunteer groups suppose a social innovation in rural communities that help in their adaptation to climate change. Going beyond homeowners' preparedness, the actions of volunteers range from supporting firefighters' efforts, first attack and/or year-round prevention. The investigation of these communities is in its infancy despite its practitioner and policy interest.

In this study, we shed light on this civil society engagement across different Mediterranean forest settings, namely from predominantly public forest ownership in Greece, to predominantly private in Catalonia (Spain) and virtually entirely private in Portugal. Collecting data through a survey, the type of activities of these volunteer groups, their relations with fire and local actors (i.e. social capital) and trajectory have been analysed to find possible trends.

Statistical results show that their portfolio of activities relates to their group size (i.e. available human resources) and their structural and relational social capital. Preliminary insights show an improvement in trust with fire and forest actors owing to the fire volunteer group establishment. No evidence has been found of forest area covered by fire volunteers, recent fire experience or variety in members' profile to affect the type of activities. The results are discussed in the frame of social capital theory and suggestions for further research are put forward.

 

Full reference:

Górriz-Mifsud E., Burns M., Marini Govigli V. 2019. Civil society engaged in wildfires: Mediterranean forest fire volunteer groupings. Forest Policy and Economics 102:119-129. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forpol.2019.03.007