The Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences (FNAS) at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) organized a prolific conference on forest fire management and prevention titled “Innovative Approaches to Forest Management for Fire Prevention,” under the patronage of the Minister of Environment, H.E. Dr. Nasser Yassin. The event featured renowned specialists whose presentations provided practical applications to environmental protection and what the future of fire prevention entails. In attendance were H.E. the Minister, NDU President, Fr. Bechara Khoury, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Michel El Hayek, Vice President for University Advancement, Dr. Antoine Farhat, Director of Public Affairs and Protocol, Mr. Majed Bou Hadir, FNAS Interim Dean, Dr. Roger Nakad, the Ad Hoc Committee of the FNAS Department of Sciences, faculty, staff, and students.
The opening session constituted an address from Nakad, who thanked the audience and speakers for their presence at and interest in the conference, particularly given the importance of environmental safety in Lebanon. The FNAS Dean called attention to the recent forest fires in the country, stating: “These are not environmental issues alone, but an issue of policy and action.” The damage done to the environment, increased pollution, and the impact on the biodiversity all call to immediate action, paving the way for sustainable solutions and management. “It is only through our concerted efforts that we can effectively safeguard our environment and ensure a prosperous ecosystem.”
Nakad then invited the Father President to the podium, who underlined the position of the Catholic Church on the importance of preserving the environment as one of God’s creations and principal gifts to humanity. He referred to Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si’
, which delves into the responsibility we have over the earth, its care entrusted to us by the Lord. Fr. Khoury posed the question, “How are we able to protect our environment when we as individuals cannot hold ourselves accountable?” In Lebanon’s context, Fr. Khoury cited this issue as a prime opportunity for interfaith dialogue and communal action. “The Church has called for global solidarity, proceeding from shared values and the common interest of a healthy climate.” He concluded: “We cannot continue living in states of crisis; we need to be proactive. On-ground action is non-negotiable.”
H.E. Yassin was given the stage next: the Minister spoke of the wildfires that occurred within the last two years, the data analysis revealing not only the percentage of environmental damage, but also the efficacy of mitigation efforts that saved the concerned areas. “There is a misconception that data and resources in Lebanon do not exist, but the truth of the matter is that we have an extensive forest fire database that has informed our strategies and actions plans over the last ten years,” he said. H.E. Yassin continued to detail the Ministry’s extensive efforts in maintaining both the areas and the communities affected by the wildfires. The communities in question have additionally become an integral part of the prevention strategies, providing them with resources to quickly inform others of a wildfire, such as through WhatsApp.
Following the conclusion of the Minister’s speech, Fr. Khoury presented him with a gift of appreciation for his work as an advocate of Lebanon’s environment.
The conference proceeded with its first session, “Legal and Current States of Forests in Lebanon,” moderated by Dr. Leila Khalaf Keyrouz, FNAS Associate Professor. This session detailed the preventative measures in motion across several Lebanese institutions. Ms. Elena Maalouf, representing Dr. Chadi Abdallah, Director of Research at the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), for example, gave an inventory of all the data collection available on the CNRS’s Sustainable Natural Resources Management (SuNaR) platform. On a governmental level, Dr. Chadi Mehanna, Director of Rural Development and Natural Resources at the Ministry of Agriculture, gave a comprehensive overview of the Ministry’s action plans, which are divided into three pillars: prevention, control, and post-fire decision-making. Ms. Lara Samaha, Head of the Department of Ecosystems at the Ministry of Environment also presented a rundown of the government’s central role in the management of forests and their preservation. Lastly, Dr. George Mitri from the University of Balamand (UoB) provided evidence-based analyses of the increasing wildfires in Lebanon and the shifting variables involved.
The second session, “New Management Ideas to Prevent Forest Fires,” was moderated by Dr. Pauline Aad, Chairperson of the Department of Sciences, and gave the stage to Dr. Sara Maltoni from the Regional Agency for Forests and the Environment of Sardinia (FoReSTAS), Italy. Maltoni shared the strategies gleaned from her extensive experience in fire prevention and forest preservation in Italy, derived from methods used in sustaining local species of trees. From the Lebanese Reforestation Initiative (LRI), Environmental Management Senior Specialist Mr. Abdo Nassar’s presentation, “Circular Economy of Forests,” tackled the sustainable practices of the reforestation and forest-derived products cycle in the country, fire prevention being a key factor in ensuring the circular economy’s efficacy. Mr. Nijat Sareiddine, Architectural Engineer at the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, concluded the second session with a talk on biomass management, the creation of bioenergy from forest residue entirely dependent on sustainability in the reforestation process.
Finally, session three, “Fire and Post-Fire Management,” was moderated by FNAS Associate Professor Dr. Tanos Hage, and opened with another presentation from Mitri, who went over the various guidelines in post-fire management, particularly in terms of the criteria required in order to ensure that the guidelines accurately reflect the needs of the environment and the communities affected. Similarly, community-based initiatives were the focal point of Mr. Khaled Taleb’s presentation, Founder at the Akkar Trail NGO, as well as that of Mr. Joseph Bechara, the LRI’s Manager of the Firewise Program. The involvement of local neighborhoods and municipalities allow for more proactive and on-ground action plans to be implemented, from pre- to post-fire responses. Closing the conference, Mr. Charbel Salameh, a firefighter representing Pompiers Sans Frontières, gave an overview of the forest fire fighting strategies inspired by his background.
Particularly effective methods are confining the fires and ensuring that they do not spread past the perimeter, as well as using helicopters to control the perimeter or otherwise put out the flames directly from above.
The conference was successful, with each session followed by round table discussions to expand on talking points, ask questions, and exchange ideas for future research endeavors. Concluding remarks were summarized by Aad, the conference’s overarching message being that reforestation alone is not always key in fire management or prevention. Instead, the combination of traditional practices and innovative technology with the involvement of communities as the primary stakeholders are better predictors of environmental safety and flourishing.