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Climate change alters strategy for combating wildfires, says German scientist

German environmentalist Johann Goldammer said that effects of climate change make old solutions no longer applicable

BERLIN, August 12. /TASS/. Climate change affects fight against wildfires, and the stance on this problem must be altered given a new situation, German environmentalist Johann Goldammer told TASS on Monday.

The expert has been dealing with this problem for decades, leading the Global Fire Monitoring Center in Freiberg and consulting politicians on issues of protecting forests and combating wildfires.

Environmental changes that manifest themselves in heatwaves and long periods of drought bring to naught many of ecologists’ developments and mess with scientists’ activity. Old recommendations are no longer applicable in these conditions, while new ones don’t often come timely, he said.

Putting out wildfires or leaving things as they are?

Should wildfires be put out or would it be better to let the forest be destroyed by blaze? This was the question coming to the forefront amid major wildfires in Siberia. Nowadays it is much more difficult to give prescriptions on the issue than it used to be — there is no universal formula, Johan Goldammer says.

"This is a two-way street. Russia, and precisely Siberia, as well as other countries have faced a major problem. Earlier recommendations were that it is not necessary to put out fires under certain conditions. In certain cases, it could even be good for the forest — giving it a possibility to regenerate. Fire is a component of the forest ecosystem," the expert said.

Nowadays, however, things have become unpredictable. "Due to climate change, we have found ourselves in a new situation that did not exist ten years ago," he said. "In 2012-2013, we already were thinking about how to better react to new conditions. We need more specialists who will understand how long one should wait before starting work to put out the blaze," he said.

There are vast territories in Siberia where humidity has considerably declined in the past 20 to 30 years. "You may remember smog in Moscow in 2010 from peat-bog fires. Peat-bogs, drained swamps are man-caused, while in Siberia the nature has done this without human input. This means that the former tactics of fighting the elements cannot work out in every case," the ecologist said.

Siberia is not alone

"Wildfires in Siberia is a clear illustration of how everything changes. Climate is changing, and we begin to realize that everything goes not the way it used to," he went on to say.

"Think back to what was happening in Spain, Portugal, and especially in California — forests had been burning there for so long that it became very difficult to put out the blaze. Siberia is not the only region where this problem is so pressing," Goldammer said.

He declined to forecast how long it will take the forest destroyed by blaze to revive under the current conditions.

Challenge to the mankind

"We must understand how to make forests resistant to different effects of climate change — not only wildfires, but also strong winds and heavy downpour. This is a tremendous challenge, including for the scientists who must come up with relevant recommendations," he said.

Things that we see nowadays "are a challenge to Russia and to other countries. Shared responsibility must be involved. The global community must team up, looking for common approaches, developing concepts and common mechanisms," he stressed.

"The situation has changed, and it is impossible to turn the clock back. But we can be taking more efforts to slow down these developments," he said. "We must realize that politicians in all countries manage priorities differently, and they may be short-term. But long-term consequences of today’s problems will appear only in a long while," Goldammer said.