Primary strip network system for fuel management
Portugal - Primary strip network system for fuel management
left: Reduction of the density of trees and or vegetation removal using machinery (Photo: João Soares)
right: Primary strip network system for fuel management. (Photo: João Soares)

Linear strips are strategically located in areas where total or partial removal of the forest biomass is possible. This technology contributes towards preventing the occurrence and spread of large forest fires and reducing their consequences for the environment, people, infrastructures, etc.

There are three types of strip for fuel management in forest areas: primary, secondary and tertiary, defined by the Law 17/2009. The most important differences between them are in terms of size (primary being the widest and the tertiary the narrowest) and scale (primary referring to the district level, secondary to the municipal level and tertiary to the parish level). The primary strip network system for fuel management (RPFGC) is integrated in the National System to Prevent and Protect Forest against Fires and it is defined by the National Forest Authority (AFN).
The RPFGC aims to re-arrange landscape elements, through the establishment of discontinuities in the vegetation cover, in forest areas and in the rural landscape (for example using water bodies, agricultural land, pasture, rocky outcrops, shrubland and valuable forest stands). Land tenure is private in most of the areas covered by the RPFGC. The main objectives of this technology are: to decrease the area affected by large fires; to enable direct access by fire fighters; to reduce fire effects and protect roads, infrastructures and social equipment, urban areas and forest areas of special value; and to isolate potential fire ignition sources.
These primary strips are ≥ 125 metres wide and preferably between 500 and 10,000 ha in area. The tree cover should be less than 50% of the area and the base of the tree canopy should not be lower than 3 metres. The RPFGC concept should include the adoption of a maintenance programme. The implementation and maintenance operations can be performed through different agro-forest technologies, such as clearance of bushes and trees, pruning, prescribed fire, harrowing and cultivation of the ground beneath the trees. Timber products can be sold and the removed litter can be used in a biomass power plant or applied to the fields to improve soil fertility, using mulching technology.
This SWC Technology needs considerable financial resources in terms of labour and equipment at the implementation phase. Costs, however, undergo considerable reduction thereafter. The implementation of this infrastructure to prevent and protect the land from forest fire is entirely funded by the government and implemented by the forest municipal services.
Location: Portugal
Region: Santarém / Mação
Technology area: 400 km2
Conservation measure: structural
Stage of intervention: prevention of land degradation
Origin: Developed externally / introduced through project, recent (<10 years ago)
Land use type:
Forests / woodlands: Natural
Mixed: Agroforestry
Climate: subhumid, temperate
WOCAT database reference: T_POR001en
Related approach: Forest Intervention Area (QA | POR01)
Compiled by: Celeste Coelho, University of Aveiro
Date: 2011-10-16
Contact person: Celeste Coelho, Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies University of Aveiro 3810 - 193 Aveiro Portugal Tel.: +351 234 370 349 Fax: +351 234 370 309 E-mail:


Land use problems:
- Forest fires increase due to rural depopulation and to land management abandonment. (expert's point of view)

Land useClimateDegradationConservation measure
Land use Land useSubhumid
selective felling of (semi-) natural forests, clear felling of (semi-)natural forests
Biological degradation: detrimental effects of fires
Structural: Others ()
Stage of interventionOriginLevel of technical knowledge
   Mitigation / Reduction
   Land users initiative
   Experiments / Research
   Externally introduced: recent (<10 years ago)
   Agricultural advisor
   Land user
Main causes of land degradation:
Direct causes - Human induced: deforestation / removal of natural vegetation (incl. forest fires)
Indirect causes: Property size
Main technical functions:
- control of fires
Secondary technical functions:
- reduction of dry material (fuel for wildfires)

Natural Environment
Average annual rainfall (mm)Altitude (m a.s.l.)    LandformSlope (%)
> 4000 mm
3000-4000 mm
2000-3000 mm
1500-2000 mm
1000-1500 mm
750-1000 mm
500-750 mm
250-500 mm
< 250 mm

> 4000   

    plateau / plains
    mountain slopes
    hill slopes
    valley floors

very steep

Soil depth (cm)

Growing season(s): 1 days (1 per year)
Soil texture: medium (loam)
Soil fertility: low
Topsoil organic matter: low (<1%)
Soil drainage/infiltration: poor (eg sealing /crusting)
Soil water storage capacity: low
Ground water table: 5 - 50 m
Availability of surface water: medium
Water quality: good drinking water
Biodiversity: medium
Tolerant of climatic extremes: temperature increase, seasonal rainfall increase, seasonal rainfall decrease, decreasing length of growing period
Sensitive to climatic extremes: heavy rainfall events (intensities and amount), wind storms / dust storms, floods, droughts / dry spells

Human Environment
Forests / woodlands per household (ha)

Land user: groups / community, Small scale land users, common / average land users, men and women
Population density: 10-50 persons/km2
Annual population growth: negative
Land ownership: individual, not titled
Land use rights: individual
Water use rights: open access (unorganised)
(Individual, not titled: Usually, legal documents for the property are missing.)
Relative level of wealth: average, which represents 50% of the land users; 50% of the total area is owned by average land users
poor, which represents 50% of the land users; 50% of the total area is owned by poor land users

Importance of off-farm income: > 50% of all income:
Access to service and infrastructure: low: employment (eg off-farm); moderate: education, technical assistance, telecommunications; high: health, market, energy, roads & transport, drinking water and sanitation, financial services
Market orientation: mixed (subsistence and commercial)

blob_id=2122Technical drawing

This technical drawing indicates the technical specifications, dimensions and spacing for the Primary Strip Network System for Fuel Management. The figure shows a road as the axis of the RPFGC, but it can also be a river or a ridge, amongst other breaks in the forest cover. (João Soares)

Implementation activities, inputs and costs
Establishment activitiesEstablishment inputs and costs per ha
- Primary System design
- Shrubs cleaning + Thinning (reduction of fuel load) + Pruning
- Removing the cut waste material
- Litter Shredding
- Transport to the Biomass Plant
InputsCosts (US$)% met by land user
Labour 1076.00 0%
  - machine use 568.00 0%
  - Transport 100.00 0%
TOTAL 1744.00 0.00%

Maintenance/recurrent activities

The costs include the activities to ensure the vertical and horizontal discontinuity of the fuel load and also the activities needed to manage the waste produced from the shrubs cleaning and thinning.
The costs calculation was made for the implementation of the first section of the RPFGC. The implementation phase lasted for 2 or 3 months during the dry season. This section included 28 ha and 4 teams of forest sappers were involved.

Impacts of the Technology
Production and socio-economic benefitsProduction and socio-economic disadvantages
   reduced risk towards adverse events (droughts, floods and storms)
   increased fodder production
   increased fodder quality
   increased animal production
   increased energy production: biomass
   costs of implementation
   reduced wood production
   increased maintenance costs
Socio-cultural benefitsSocio-cultural disadvantages
   community institution strengthening
   national institution strengthening
   conflict mitigation
   improved conservation / erosion knowledge
   socio cultural conflicts
Ecological benefitsEcological disadvantages
   reduced hazard towards adverse events
   reduced fire risk
   improved soil cover
   decreased soil cover
   increased surface water runoff
   decreased soil organic matter
   increased soil erosion locally
   increased habitat fragmentation
Off-site benefitsOff-site disadvantages
   reduced damage on public / private infrastructure
   reduced damage on neighbours fields
Contribution to human well-being / livelihoods
   reduced risk of wildfire

Benefits /costs according to land user
Benefits compared with costsshort-term:long-term:
Establishmentneutral / balancedpositive
Maintenance / recurrentneutral / balancedpositive
The maintenance will only start 2 or 3 years after the technology implementation, so no returns are expected at short-term.

Acceptance / adoption:

There is strong trend towards (growing) spontaneous adoption of the technology. After the implementation period there was a high local acceptance of the technology. It is also expected that grazing activities contribute to the technology maintenance

Concluding statements

Strengths and how to sustain/improveWeaknesses and how to overcome
Fuel load reduction This will be achieved using prescribed fire and specialised machinery. The efficacy of prescribed fire depends on the collaboration of technicians and forest sapper teams. To guarantee the effectiveness of RPFGC implementation, long-term maintenance has to be ensured.
Reinforcement of the forest path system Clearing the strips of the RPFGC can enhance the forest track network.
Forest fire prevention and fighting The know-how of the local stakeholders and communities will contribute to the design of the RPFGC . This information should be integrated into the Municipal Plans to Prevent and Protect Forest Against Fires (PMDFCI). Any further information should be provided to the Civil Protection Agencies and to the Forest Technical Office and also to the local fire-brigade team.
Increase in landscape resilience This will only be effective if the RPFGC is continuous and without gaps. The acceptance of the RPFGC by the landowners is fundamental to widespread the use of this technology. Information and awareness about the need to change vegetation cover is also very important, in order to avoid extensive areas of monoculture.
Soil erosion increase Forestry good practices should be used in the RPFGC implementation, especially concerning the use of machinery and avoiding disturbance of soil at depth. Soil cover after the removal of the existing vegetation should be promoted (by seeding, mulching or creating a low intensity pasture).
Soil cover reduction Soil cover after the removal of the existing vegetation should be promoted (by seeding, mulching or creating a low intensity pasture).
Runoff increase Soil cover after the removal of the existing vegetation should be promoted (by seeding, mulching or creating a low intensity pasture). Excessive vegetation removal should be avoid, especially near water courses where the removal should be nil or minimum.
Budget for implementation and maintenance European and national funds. Collaboration of the local government providing equipment and labour force. Information and awareness to the landowners about the importance of this technology. Campaigns of national awareness and definition of this technology as ‘public use’ to overcome some potential social conflicts concerning the land rights.

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