That the Sierra Bermeja area is being devastated by a large forest fire does not surprise the members of the Sierra Bermeja National Park Platform. “The fire was singing,” says his co-spokesperson, Javier Martos.
What is the pyrocumulus that is complicating the Sierra Bermeja fire
This platform has been defending the protection of Sierra Bermeja as a national park since 2007 when they made the first formal request to the then Minister of the Environment, Cristina Narbona (PSOE). Last June, with the debate on the Bill to declare the Sierra de las Nieves National Park, they had another opportunity. And again, his claim to guarantee the conservation of Sierra Bermeja was left up in the air.
“How much we would have liked to include in this space Sierra Bermeja, but two fundamental requirements were missing: the ecological continuity interrupted by the road that connects Ronda with San Pedro de Alcántara and the possibility of characterizing all that space at the speed we needed”, said the third vice president of the Government and minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, in the Senate although it did not rule out a future expansion of the Sierra de las Nieves National Park.
“The problem is one of political will,” says Adelante Andalucía senator, Pilar González, to elDiario.es/Andalucía. González defended “out of conviction and commitment” the incorporation of Sierra Bermeja to the new national park with “the desire to incorporate the best representation of the biodiversity of Spain.” In other words, the senator advocated the protection of “two unique ecosystems”: the pinsapares and the outcrops of peridotites, rocks that date back about 25 million years, from the Oligoncene period.
The Sierra de las Nieves National Park has an area of 22,979 hectares and, according to González, “it would have made more sense, from an environmental point of view, to protect a larger space.” Martos states that the bill, “leaves much to be desired administratively because the declaration generates more tourist flow and therefore more overcrowding in a small area.” In comparison, the Sierra Nevada National Park in Granada is the largest in Spain at 86,210 hectares. For the member of the platform, including the more than 40,000 hectares of Sierra Bermeja would have been “more efficient.”
No resources for surveillance
“The inclusion of Sierra Bermeja in the plan to declare the Sierra de las Nieves National Park was rejected from minute one,” says Martos. Beyond the arguments given by Ribera, the Sierra Bermeja National Park platform believes that the political excuses are based on the fact that Sierra Bermeja is called a Special Conservation Zone (ZEC), the highest figure of protection granted by the European Union.
However, as Martos points out, this is not linked to an economic allocation that guarantees its conservation. “The politicians hide behind the fact that the area is already adequately protected, but they do not have the resources to monitor the Genal Valley. There is only one coordinator and two environmental agents,” he says. This newspaper has contacted the Ministry of the Environment of the Junta de Andalucía, which has not responded to the queries made.
The Professional Association of Environmental Agents of Andalusia (AAMAA) confirms Martos’s complaint: “There is a coordinator and two forestry agents. The staff also has a third agent, but due to service needs, he is not working there,” he says. its president José Miguel Bellido.
According to the AAMAA, each Andalusian province has five biogeographic units that, in turn, are divided into two or three component units (UI) that serve different municipalities. Each of these UI has a coordinator and between eight and 12 forest agents. The Genal Valley UI, corresponding to the Sierra Bermeja localities, only has four people assigned to it. “Clearly this is insufficient”, highlights Bellido, “but it is a fact that is not only limited to this area but is something general throughout Andalusia”. 10 years ago the autonomous community added 1,300 environmental agents. Today that number is 720.
The existence of different hunting reserves in the area also causes problems to give way to the proposal. “This is a simple excuse,” they say, “because they are at the foot of the mountain. In addition, the law favors the expropriation of these lands and the municipalities of Estepona, Jubrique and Casares have their own hunting grounds outside of Sierra Bermeja.”
The Sierra Bermeja National Park Platform asks the administrations to “provide solutions and not trip up any more.” Senator González insists that they will present the inclusion proposal again. “In human terms, the fire is irreparable, but it has meant, from conservation, a wake-up call to shake the conscience of those who have the possibility of reversing this situation.”
It should be noted, as published by elDiario.es/Andalucía, that the European Union allocates funds for fire prevention and that the Junta de Andalucía only allocates 0.8% of the budgeted to this work. Of the 14.5 million euros budgeted, 127,384 euros will be invested and 23 files of 657 applications have been accepted.
A big fire every six years
Sierra Bermeja extends over more than 300 km² in the westernmost area of the Betic Mountain Range and is dotted with a dozen municipalities: Benahavís, Casares, Estepona, Genalguacil, Igualeja, Istán, Jubrique, Júzcar, Parauta and Pujerra.
This latest fire, which remains active and has forced the evacuation of more than a thousand people, is not the only one in 2021. On May 10, Infoca, the device against forest fires of the Junta de Andalucía, activated his operation to fight another fire in the Genalguacil area that was controlled that same day. Two months later, on July 9, this time in the municipality of Jubrique, another fire caused the Infoca to act in the “Peña Blanca” area. The fire, which was extinguished on July 20, burned 447.02 hectares.
“Sierra Bermeja is one of the hot spots in Andalusia,” says Martos. This is confirmed by the study Sierra Bermeja and the great forest fires: a geohistorical reconstruction (1950-2018) from Martos himself and from the Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Granada, José Gómez.
The research shows that the periodicity of large forest fires, those that exceed 500 hectares, in this mountain is an average of six years in the period between 1975 and 2018. “The temporary recurrence of these fires in Sierra Bermeja is very high”, Martos says. Pending official confirmation, this Thursday’s fire has already burned more than 3,500 hectares.
“A privileged place”
The president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juan Manuel Moreno, was “very satisfied and proud” that the Sierra de las Nieves was declared a National Park. The autonomous community became the peninsular territory with the largest number of these spaces -three together with Doñana and Sierra Nevada-. This recognition was certified, among other foundations, by the “exceptional natural and cultural values” as stated in the Law 9/2021 of July 1.
“Sierra Bermeja is the best representation of serpentine ecosystems in Spain and throughout the western Mediterranean,” they point out in the Sierra Bermeja National Park Platform. The presence of the Spanish fir emphasizes the exceptional nature of this place. This primitive fir, endemic in the Cádiz and Málaga mountains, is included in the Andalusian Catalog of Threatened Species and in the case of the Sierra Bermeja Spanish fir, this is the only one in the world whose population rises on peridotites.
“These are special rocks from the Earth’s crust that are the product of the collision of tectonic plates. There are only 15 or 20 places in the world where they can be found and one of them is Sierra Bermeja”, points out the professor of Botany of the University of Malaga, Andrés V. Pérez Latorre.
In this rugged territory with steep slopes, little grows. As a fruit of the peridotites, the soil contains high levels of toxic metals, which makes life difficult on it. However, the area has a series of species exclusive to the peridotitic mountain ranges such as herbaceous Bermejana crepis and Cephalaria baetica or asteraceae Galatella malacitana and Centaurea carratracensis, among other. Vermilion insects such as coleopterans can also be found Alphasida ferreri and Asida marginicollis amplicollis. “Sierra Bermeja is a privileged site due to the richness of its endemic species of both plants and animals”, highlights Pérez Latorre.
The conservation of this area of ”extraordinary natural spaces in Malaga” is the main justification made by the Sierra Bermeja National Park Platform for its inclusion in the Network of National Parks. “This request is not free. We have a unique ecosystem”, Martos emphasizes.