There is only one month left to ensure the cleaning of forest lands, including around houses, with the deadline of 15 March remaining unchanged, despite general lockdown due to Covid-19, despite calls for an extension.

According to the State Budget Law for 2021, work on the implementation of management against fires, consisting of a 50-metre strip around houses and other buildings and a 100-metre perimeter strip around population centres, car parks, camping and industrial zones, “should be completed by 15 March”.

Lusa News Agency questioned the Ministry of Internal Administration about the possibility of extending the deadline for clearing forest land, since the lockdown decreed due to the Covid-19 pandemic will continue during the month of March, but at the time of going to press they had not received an answer.

In 2020, the deadline of “until 15 March” was extended twice by the Government, firstly on 2 April until 30 April, then again on 2 May until 31 May, under the exceptional measures due to the pandemic of Covid-19.

“It is important not to forget that the country has a huge risk of forest fire and that this risk requires a major cleaning effort”, said António Costa, in the scope of the announcement, on 2 April, of the first extension of the deadline for the owners to proceed with cleaning the forests.

With this decision, the Government intended to “create better conditions” so that people could fulfill this obligation, “taking into account the strong movement limitations” due to the general lockdown.

In view of the non-compliance by the owners with the deadline for cleaning land, the city councils must ensure, until 31 May that all fuel management works are carried out, “by means of a communication and, in the absence of a response within five days, by notice to be posted at the workplace”.

This year fines have again been “doubled”, to €280 to €10,000 in the case of individuals, and to €3,000 to €120,000 in the case of companies, associations, foundations.

In 2020, the National Republican Guard (GNR) began the inspection of forest land as of 1 June, after the end of the extended period for cleaning, indicating that, until that moment, “23,852 non-compliant situations” were identified, communicated to the respective municipalities, with greater incidences found in Leiria, Castelo Branco, Viseu, Coimbra, Braga, Santarém, Vila Real, Viana do Castelo and Aveiro.

Forest owners call for deadline extension

The National Federation of Forest Owners Associations (FNAPF) defends the extension of the land clearance period until 31 May, considering the “most adverse” weather conditions and the confinement due to the pandemic.

“I think the Government will have, again, the good sense to extend the deadline”, said the president of FNAPF, Luís Damas, speaking out against the 15 March deadline, for the owners to ensure the management of their land, including around houses.

Speaking to Lusa, the forest owners’ representative said that the deadline “is out of date, because in nature there are no dates, there are cycles, some years, winter and spring are prolonged, they are drier or more humid, and this does not have a fixed date”.

“We are tired of saying that this cannot be dictated by dates, every year you have to look at when it rained. For example, this year is a year that saw a lot of rain, there will be a lot of water available, when the heat comes, the plants will trigger their growth”, declared the president of FNAPF.

For this reason, he continued, if the owners start to clear the land already, there are places where they will have to cut the bush and herbaceous plants “three and four times” to comply with the obligation of the management plans.

Additionally, as this year the weather conditions are “more adverse”, there are lands where it is not possible to intervene now, because “they are in excess of humidity”, which makes it difficult for people and machines to move in these areas, he added.

Another factor that justifies the extension of the land cleaning period, according to the forest owners, is the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which “will have implications”, said Luís Damas.