A decade of re­cov­ery for Mount Par­nitha

Ten years after the dev­as­tat­ing wild­fire, a mes­sage of op­ti­mism can be dis­cerned in the progress made in re­for­est­ing its charred slopes

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY GIOR­GOS LIALIOS

It’s been 10 years since the cat­a­strophic wild­fire on Mount Par­nitha, just north of Athens. For over a week the fire, which started at the end of a record-break­ing heat wave that baked the en­tire coun­try with tem­per­a­tures as high as 47 de­grees in the hottest lo­ca­tions, burned much of the moun­tain’s forest­land, fu­eled by strong winds and low hu­mid­ity. It was one of the costli­est wild­fires to hit Greece and its ef­fects are still be­ing felt on the moun­tain to this day. But a decade after the dis­as­ter, there is a sense of op­ti­mism. The re­sults of re­for­esta­tion ef­forts in the years that fol­lowed, com­bined with nat­u­ral re­gen­er­a­tion, have be­gun to show. How­ever, the lack of any sys­tem­atic ef­fort to ed­u­cate the gen­eral pub­lic in en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues re­mains. This is ev­i­dent in the fact that de­spite the Par­nitha dis­as­ter, peo­ple can still be ob­served dis­card­ing trash on the road­sides, let­ting their dogs run loose, feed­ing deer and other po­ten­tially harm­ful be­hav­ior.

On June 26, the 10th an­niver­sary of the Par­nitha fire, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) or­ga­nized a hike to the ar­eas that burned. The event was a col­lab­o­ra­tion with key stake­hold­ers in the pro­tec­tion and re­gen­er­a­tion of the moun­tain, among them the na­tional park mon­i­tor­ing body, the Par­nitha forestry author­ity and the Re­for­esta­tion Divi­sion of At­tica. Ac­cord­ing to Par­nitha Na­tional Park for­est ranger Gior­gos Zafiris, the fire had a ma­jor im­pact on the ecosys­tem of the moun­tain. “Be­fore the fire, Aleppo pines used to reach up to an el­e­va­tion of 700 me­ters and now we see fully de­vel­oped pines up to 900 me­ters. There are two rea­sons for this. One is that seeds have been pushed up­ward, in com­bi­na­tion with re­cent win­ters be­ing among the warm­est on record. The ex­ten­sion of the Aleppo pine for­est helps us be­cause it adds green­ery and shade that aid in the growth of fir trees. There has also been a big change in the fauna. The deer pop­u­la­tion has in­creased as there is more grass now and they’ve even sought food else­where off the moun­tain. This has re­sulted in the re­turn of wolves, which sort of helps to clean up the area.”

Re­for­esta­tion ef­forts on Par­nitha be­gan in 2008, a year after the fire, and they con­tinue to this day. Ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor of At­tica Re­for­esta­tion, Pana­gi­o­tis Sas­sa­los, so far 196,654 Cephalo­nia fir trees have been planted over 4,500 acres. Some 193,000 black pines and 800 oak trees have also been planted. Another 180,000 saplings are be­ing cul­ti­vated in the Par­nitha for­est nurs­ery and will grad­u­ally be planted over the next few years. “The ev­er­green for­est needs 40 to 50 years to grow. It’s un­likely to be fully re­gen­er­ated in my life­time, but we’re mak­ing good progress,” says Sas­sa­los. It must also be noted that re­for­esta­tion ac­tiv­i­ties have also been car­ried out with the help of trained vol­un­teers. Ac­cord­ing to Ilias Tziri­tis, lo­cal ac­tion co­or­di­na­tor for WWF Greece, the or­ga­ni­za­tion de­vel­oped a train­ing sys­tem for vol­un­teers from 2011 to 2014, not only to help with re­for­esta­tion ef­forts, but also to show them how to take care of saplings. The re­sult of this ef­fort is the cre­ation of a reg­is­ter from which ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teers can be drawn.

To­day, 26 peo­ple are em­ployed by the Par­nitha forestry author­ity and 25 by the na­tional park. There is a staff short­age, but they do get 550,000 eu­ros a year from the Mont Parnes Casino on the moun­tain, which means fund­ing isn’t an is­sue.

Lack of ed­u­ca­tion

De­spite all this, the over­all be­hav­ior of many vis­i­tors to Par­nitha shows a lack of ed­u­ca­tion and com­mon sense. “It is dif­fi­cult for those who are not ed­u­cated in en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters to act re­spect­fully in the for­est,” says Kostas Di­mopou­los, chief of the Par­nitha Na­tional Park. “In the sum­mer­time many come to the moun­tain with bar­be­cues, oth­ers lit­ter, oth­ers still let their dogs run wild on the moun­tain, where they form packs. Some even feed deer right next to signs that tell them it is pro­hib­ited,” he says. “On this an­niver­sary of such a de­struc­tive fire, we want to pro­mote a mes­sage of op­ti­mism. Above all though, the peo­ple that visit Par­nitha or any other for­est or na­tional park must be mind­ful of their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment,” he adds.

The Par­nitha fire burned for sev­eral days as high winds made it in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for fire­fight­ers to get it un­der con­trol. Re­for­esta­tion ef­forts on Par­nitha be­gan a year after the fire, and they con­tinue to this day. So far, 196,654 Cephalo­nia fir trees, 193,000 black pines and 800 oak trees have been planted.

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