‘Unthinkable’ Firefighting cows could be new weapon against fires ravaging Spain

The Green Planet: David Attenborough's warning over forest fires

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Spanish authorities evacuated almost 1,000 people to protect them from a blaze which destroyed at least 21,000 hectares in the province of Ávila in August. The fire was man-made but conditions in the affected area and a major heatwave helped to fuel the flames.

Now the country’s Interprofessional Organisation of Beef and Veal (Provacuno) is calling for cows to graze mountains and pastures in a bid to clear areas of flammable vegetation and avert another conflagration.

Javier López, director of the employers’ association, told Spanish newspaper ABC: “At the same time, livestock allows great economic savings because hiring labour and machinery to carry out these same tasks mechanically would be unthinkable.”

He asked: “Why don’t we bet more on the maintenance of livestock activity to fight fires?”

Alejandro, who owns 80 cows in the mountain town Cercedilla near Madrid, said: “A dry pasture for fire is like alcohol, literally gunpowder.”

He added that areas without livestock grazing had led to mountain habitats deteriorating.

Alejandro said: “It already happened in Ávila and it was terrible because there are not enough livestock farmers and fire has it much easier.”

He explained mountain heights are being lost to grazing because the European Union does not provide aid to put the cows there, causing a loss of pasture.

The farmer claimed fallen trees are gaining prominence in the pine forest of Cercedilla.


But he argued grazing higher mountain areas around Cercedilla would help livestock farmers save on feed.

Provacuno pointed to Spanish government data on the extent of the damage caused by fires in forests which show 84,300 hectares have been affected by fires.

Of this total, 66,783 were in forests and more than 17,400 in woodland areas.

The number of fires which spread over an area exceeding 500 hectares, totalled 19, of which 15 were in summer and four in winter.

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Mr López demanded support for livestock farmers who he said are “vital to the conservation of the natural environment and the species that inhabit it”.

Research has shown that changes in climate are creating warmer and drier conditions.

More droughts and a longer fire season are increasing the risk of wildfires.

The US Forest Service recently called a temporary, nationwide halt to controlled burns meant to reduce fire risk.

It came after the agency accidentally started part of New Mexico’s largest ever wildfire.

A USFS managed burn near Las Vegas, New Mexico, went ahead despite forecasts for high winds. It went out of control on April 6.

The fire, the largest in the southwestern state’s recorded history, merged with another wind-driven blaze to form the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire.

It torched 298,060 acres (121,000 hectares), overtaking the previous record blaze, 2012’s Whitewater Baldy fire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told regional officials earlier this month to deal with forest fires in Siberia.

Putin said the blazes were causing significant material damage and posing a threat to life, the environment and the economy.

He added: “We cannot allow a repeat of last year’s situation, when forest fires were the most long-lasting and intensive of recent years.”

Acting Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupryan told Putin there had been 4,000 forest fires since the start of the year across 270,000 hectares – an area larger than Luxembourg.

The 2021 fire season was Russia’s largest on record with 18.8 million hectares of forest destroyed, according to Greenpeace Russia.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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