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.
*This article was first published by ekathimerini.com on 4/07/2017.