Open letter to the President of the Republic on the occasion of the Council of Ministers for the Forest Opinion

The President of the Republic will preside over the final meeting of the Council of Ministers (RCM) on March 4 to be held under this mandate. This RCM will be devoted to forest management and it is expected that on that occasion the National Action Program of the National Plan for the Integrated Combat of Rural Fires, as well as laws enshrining a legal system of compulsory leasing, will be adopted.

The initiative, which has a strong symbolic meaning – remember that on March 3, 2016, António Costa’s executive invited ex-President Cavaco Silva to lead the last RCM of his mandate on the theme of the sea, cannot mean that this program and related legislation will come into force automatically. In other words, the symbolism should not be confused with an implied agreement with the diplomas approved there.

It is clear that the Prime Minister intends to choose this issue in the presence of the President, who called so hard on the government in dealing with the forest problems and the tragic fires of 2017 that they caused so many casualties. However, there is an enormous debate to be had that cannot be limited to this RCM or the closed loop from São Bento to Belém. Integrated forest management differs from integrated forest fire management.

The forestry sector, made up of hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of businesses and having a very significant weight in the wealth and jobs created in Portugal, is in the dark as to what will be decided.

Measures decided in the offices of the power corridors in Lisbon have not served the rural country. It has been like this for decades and we are very afraid that it will not be any different now

Understanding that the government shouldn’t turn its back on an entire sector on such a relevant matter, especially if the forest is to be a relevant asset for the recovery of the economy, we urge the President of The Republic to be able to be the protagonist of a process that wants to be alive and participatory, with full involvement of the representatives of the sector and their associative representatives. These guidelines must be discussed and discussed with forest producers and entrepreneurs before they are approved.

Measures decided in the offices of the power corridors in Lisbon have not served the rural country. It has been like this for decades and we fear very much that it will not be any different now, especially at a time when Portugal will benefit from an express injection of Community funds, which must be used efficiently and with technical and effective knowledge of the territory, its own Characteristics and needs.

The recent dispersion of government guardianship over the forest, the lack of an overview, the lack of technical and terrain knowledge, the deterioration in the GVA of silviculture, a mediocre execution of only 55% of the forest rural development program The support of forest investment is a very negative aspect contributing to the disaster of more than 855,000 hectares of burned rural areas since 2015 – which equates to almost 10% of continental territory – and would recommend that prior to any decisions, decisions should be dialogue and consultation with the sector .

The ridiculous speaks for itself: fewer than 2,000 hectares were planted nationwide in 2019. Eucalyptus, that “cursed” tree that brings so much prosperity to our economy, remains banned for ideological reasons, to which we now want to add the maritime pine, nicknamed “monoculture”. And the numbers are ashamed of the new settlements of other species so desired: 273 hectares with cork oaks, 73 with oaks, 13 with chestnut trees and astonishingly 2 hectares with holm oaks, which corresponds to half of Praça do Comércio!

The fear we have, and to which we appeal and raise awareness, the President of the Republic is that it will not automatically promulgate the legislation that will be approved in the RCM that he will preside without first properly assessing it and consultations with it Specialists and professionals trigger involvement of the actors on site.

The rural world is neither exhausted nor reduced to the environment. It has and maintains life, it houses people, animals and businesses, it has savings. To promote and improve it we have to respect and count on those who are there

There are five basic dimensions that we defend. The measures included in the forest legislative package should be:

1. Technically correct – should always be based on the best available technical and scientific knowledge and be compatible with the forest models for which they are intended;

2. Feasible – There is no point in formulating measures that are virtually impossible to apply due to the condition of their recipients, forest owners, territory or local economy.

3. Economically Justified – Measures that are imposed on those who must apply them and are economically unfeasible will never be sustainable.

4. Productive in its goals – It is imperative that the recommended actions are able to achieve a noticeable improvement in results on their own.

5. Fair – Actions requested by forest owners should be accompanied by effective support from society, justified by the fact that many of the constraints they face are the result of decades of inadequate, if not inadequate, public action. It is imperative that the entire cost of collective protection of the population and the territory is not borne by any particular group, while at the same time respecting private property.

The President of the Republic concludes the current mandate by chairing a meeting of the Council of Ministers on Forests. Five days later, he will take up his post for another five years in a particularly demanding and challenging context. We therefore call on the President to start his second term with an opening signal and launch a broad debate – short-lived but intensely debated – to ensure that the Portuguese forest has a future. The rural world is neither exhausted nor reduced to the environment. It has and maintains life, it houses people, animals and businesses, it has savings. To promote and improve it we have to respect and count on those who are there.

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