Croatian Forestry: What are the benefits of afforestation in Dalmatia?

What is the benefit of afforestation of the burned area and how long does it take for a “quality” forest to grow after afforestation – forestry engineer Zoran Šunjić from Croatian Forestry/Hrvatske šume, partner in the Dinara back to LIFE project, explained at his lecture held at the educational-volunteer camp in September.

Project partner Šunjić giving a lecture on Croatian Forestry company

The lecture of the project partner entitled “Forestry management in the karst area – challenges from the field and harmonization with the ecological network” included an introduction to the work of Croatian Forestry, after which he took volunteers from the camp to the field where he explained afforestation system and showed the difference between burned and unburned terrain, and students were given the opportunity to plant black pine seedlings themselves.

Digging a hole for a seedling

The total area of ​​forests and forest lands in Croatia is 2,688,687 hectares, which is 47% of the country’s land area. Of that, 2.1 million ha are owned by the Republic of Croatia, while 581,770 ha are owned by private forest owners. Croatian Forestry manages 2 million hectares. Šunjić explained that any area that is overgrown with forest trees, and is larger than ​​10 acres (1000 m2), is considered a forest.

Šunjić tried to argue what are the benefits from afforestation with Aleppo pine and black pine. Croatian Forestry consider Aleppo pine and black pine to be the main and unavoidable pioneers in our coast. Such forests, according to Forestry, stop and prevent erosion, produce oxygen, retain water, purify the air, improve soil quality, protect it from excessive insolation, and generally improve climatic conditions, fulfilling those functions called “general forest functions”. Croatian Forestry also notes, in the context of combating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and in order to meet the Paris targets, that a hectare of pine annually “catches” 15-26 tons of carbon dioxide – CO2, the main greenhouse gas.

For these two species of pines, some of the experts from outside Croatian Forestry company state that they are unpleasant during summer fires. They believe that the forested areas in Dalmatia – especially those covered with resin-rich conifers and dried needles – promote the spread of summer wildfires, which are much harder to spread on grassy terrain and easier to put out.

Seedlings ready to be planted

The process of afforestation, Šunjić explained, begins with the planting of Aleppo pine in the coastal / eumediterranean region and black pine in the coastal / sub-Mediterranean region. In forests, all processes take a very long time and in order for the climatogenic community of holm oak to develop under the Aleppo pine or Downy oak to develop under black pine, a 60-100 years phase of pioneer and transitional species dominated by pine must pass.

After the lecture, engineer Šunjić and Damir Jukić – Bračulj, Dinara project’s expert associate for forestry, took the participants of the Dinara camp back to LIFE to the forested area. To begin with, experts from Croatian Forestry described that afforestation begins by digging holes in which pines are planted. The parallel furrows dug by the machines are 3 meters wide, while the seedlings are placed every 2 meters inside one furrow, which means that an average of 2,000 plants are planted per hectare. The holes in which the pines are planted must be 40 cm deep, which protects the young seedlings from the wind. A good part of the seedlings do not survive these difficult conditions, so the dried seedlings are replaced with new seedlings.

Šunjić explained how low-growing and dry branches are removed from the already grown forest, which prevents the spread of wildfires, since the fire will be harder to spread to the branches that grow high. As for early detection of fires, Croatian Forestry uses a system of cameras, although now, thanks to technology, the fastest reports are from local people, in which case the reports come very quickly – the information arrives within minutes. Šunjić added that 300 hectares, or over 500,000 seedlings, are planted annually in Dalmatia, while far more – 1,500 hectares – are burned in wildfires. The capacity of the Piket plant nursery near Zadar is 2,500,000 seedlings, and engineer Šunjić believes that all these plants should be planted.

A tour of the burned area near the Peruća dam ended an interesting and informative trip where participants heard a different view on the issue of afforestation and the benefits of forests on the Dalmatian karst, as opposed to the view of the forested area as a fuel and an amplifier of summer wildfires.