Deadline to clean up land ends today and non-compliant owners risk fines

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The deadline for clearing forest land ends today and non-complying owners risk fines of up to 5,000 euros for individuals and up to 25,000 euros for legal entities.

As of this date, April 30, the city councils can substitute themselves for the owners in clearing the undergrowth, who are obliged to allow access to their land and pay the costs to the council.

The National Federation of Forest Owners Associations (FNAPF) defended the extension of the deadline for land clearing from April 30 to mid-May, justifying that the work has been hampered by dry weather and fire risk alerts.

Several municipalities affected by fires in recent years have said that it is becoming more difficult to meet the deadline for clearing land, due to rising prices for this type of work, a lack of manpower, and a lack of registration to identify landowners.

There has been no decision by the Government to extend this deadline, and the Secretary of State for Nature Conservation and Forests, João Paulo Catarino, has made a “positive balance” of the effort that public and private entities have made to clean up land and forests, in the scope of rural fire prevention.

In this context, the National Republican Guard (GNR) begins, from Monday, May 1st, the phase of monitoring the work of cleaning up the forest, having already identified almost 14,000 sites at risk of non-compliance with the mandatory cleaning of land.

According to the Integrated Management System for Rural Fires, decree-law no. 82/2021, failure to comply with fuel management duties, i.e. reducing plant and woody material in order to hinder the spread of fire, by cutting grass, shrubs and trees in some areas, is qualified as a serious misdemeanor.

Fines range from 500 euros to 5,000 euros in the case of natural persons, and 2,500 euros to 25,000 euros in the case of legal entities.

In response to the Lusa agency, the GNR indicated that, as part of the “Safe Forest 2023” campaign, 13,949 sites were identified by April 9 as being at risk of non-compliance with the mandatory cleaning of land, with the aim of minimizing the risk of fire in priority areas, which, according to law, should be done by April 30.

This year’s figure is up from 2022, when 10,989 risk sites were identified.

In the same period this year, the GNR registered 16 notifications for unauthorized burning and 58 for unauthorized burning of leftovers, while in 2022 there were a total of 362 and 123, respectively.

So far this year 34 people have been arrested for forest fires, while in all of last year 72 were arrested.

As for administrative offenses, in 2022 there were 4,359 fines for failure to clean up forest land, according to GNR data.

Landowners are required to carry out fuel management (clearing of vegetation) in a strip no less than 50 meters wide around houses and other buildings in rural areas, and in the case of settlements, campsites and industrial areas, this protection strip extends to 100 meters.

In March of this year, a list of 998 priority parishes was published, which should take precedence in the inspection and enforcement of the current law (at https://dre.pt/dre/detalhe/despacho/3780-2023-210931890).

In the context of rural fires, the GNR has stressed that the protection of people and property is one of its strategic priorities, based on prevention and on reinforcing patrols in forest areas.

“Considering that most fire occurrences are due to the negligent use of fire, the GNR recommends that in agro-forestry activities alternative methods to the burning of surplus exploration (e.g. chipping and incorporation into the soil) be used to reduce the risk of fire,” he stressed.

The Environment and Territory SOS Line (808 200 520), of the Nature and Environment Protection Service (SEPNA) of the GNR, operates permanently to report infractions or to clarify doubts.

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