European bison populations are rebounding and their growth is offering new opportunities in the field of wildfire prevention. Researchers in Spain are hopeful that increased bison populations could offer beneficial grazing and wildfire risk reduction.
As reported by the Guardian, forest fires have destroyed over 741,000 hectares of Spanish land over the past 10 years and warming weather combined with declining sheep populations has created hazardous fire conditions. Fortunately, bison eat 30kg of vegetation a day, cutting back brush while digging up the land to promote diversified growth.
“The European bison delivers immediate biodiversity,” says Fernando Morán, a veterinarian who is director of the European Bison Conservation Center of Spain. “It opens up dense parts of the forest which lets in the light and allows grass to grow instead of scrub, which lowers fire risk and, in turn, benefits numerous species through food and freedom of movement.”
Bison were driven to extinction in Spain 10,000 years ago, but cave paintings and historic records indicate that they widely roamed the Iberian peninsula for 1.2m years before they became extinct. About 50 bison survived in captivity and today, animals have been reintroduced in the wild and grown to a population of 8,400 bison.
In the Mediterranean, pasturage is critical to the development of the landscape, but declining animal herding practices have further contributed to increased fire risk. Moving forwards, the conservation center hopes to work with private landowners to sponsor bison herds as well as encourage pasturage with programs that encourage shepherding through skills training and job placement.