Forests and Climate Change

The LURGAIA Foundation is a private non-profit organisation that has been working since 2002, in order to promote the preservation of the biodiversity and natural heritage, above all by restoring the ecosystems that are considered key for the recovery of endangered species, putting the highest energy into one of the ecosystems that has the major capacity to host this biodiversity: the forest.

The Lurgaia Foundation is 20 years old this year. Regarding the past, present and future, what would you highlight? Which aspects would you emphasise? What is your work philosophy?

Our philosophy is, precisely and simply, real work, not just the words.

20 years ago, we set an objective, which was to do something to improve the situation of our natural environment, so we established some performance criteria based on science and ecology. And we started to work. At the beginning, by ourselves, but more and more people started to join us and now we have a network of more than 2,000 people who help us and coincide on our philosophy of action. Not to mention the fact that we have more than 520 partners who assist us financially too.

For the foundation, voluntary work is a fundamental pillar, not only because it helps us with the work, but also because through it we carry out an extremely important outreach work and we generate knowledge and awareness of our natural environment.

In the midst of a climate emergency, what does the latest Glasgow COP26 Declaration on Forests and Land Use suggest to you? What about the 2015 Paris Agreement?

It suggests many things, but materialises very few. We don’t doubt the need for these summits, but the declarations should be a first step towards action, they are not the action itself, which is the idea that seems to dominate today.

What is clear is that, as long as we don’t change the model of production and consumption, with the objective always set on growth at all costs rather than well-being, with a skyrocketing consumption, with the movement of goods and food between remote parts of the planet, etc. whatever we talk about will be of any use.

And we feel better thinking that it’s the fault of governments and big companies, but change lies in each of us, both the ones who integrate governments and companies, and the ones who decide what, how much and how to consume. That is the decision that can change the world and move governments and the economy. 

On your website you refer to the aspect of involving the private sector. What would you highlight about this? Are you achieving a greater involvement due to the CSR? Is the trend increasing? 

Yes, on the one hand, there is a growth of participation by companies, motivated by initiatives such as the objectives of sustainable development or the corporate social responsibility policies. In the Foundation, every collaboration is analysed, and projects with a clear intention of whitewashing are avoided and, although we had to refuse some aid, in general, companies are becoming aware and they are not only providing funding for environmental restoration projects, but are also implementing improvement processes in their production processes taking into account the environmental component.

And here we could provide examples that illustrate the previous question: there are many companies that collaborate with our project that started through a person. A person who knew us or was a volunteer and who moved their company to participate. 

From there, the corporate volunteering days raise awareness among people who do not necessarily have a connection to nature or ecology, but who, through this, become aware of it. And many of them even return to volunteering as a result.

With regard to the importance of having an impact on education and forest sensitivity, you also carry out plantations on land with the collaboration of civil society. How do you see this whole ecosystem? New activation of the auzolan?

Yes, as I said, volunteering is our basis and, since we started, it has not stopped growing, not only in number, but also in form. What was initially linked almost exclusively to the world of naturalism and ecology is now a heterogeneous group of different backgrounds, ages, genders, contexts, mindsets… What they do have in common is the clear conviction that citizens must be an active part of it. 

And if we talked about the importance of each person in one sense, here is the other sense: people decide to go away from the centre in favor of the community. Those who plant trees without making economic profit, and often without seeing the final result, are clearly working for the common good. 

Regarding your field of action, where do you work mainly? Any outstanding projects in the municipalities? Any news you would like to share?

We work mainly in Biscay, but also, and increasingly so, in Gipuzkoa. And then we have some projects in Asturias, Cantabria and Burgos.

The most outstanding project, without a doubt, the Undabaso forest in Ibarruri, in the municipality of Muxika, within the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, where we are recovering the largest mixed oak grove of the Reserve itself and the second largest in Biscay with almost 160 hectares and which, moreover, is growing steadily.

And the novelty is that we are growing in Gipuzkoa, where we have more and more projects and, above all, a growing involvement of people to work in favor of native forests.

The forests that are under the custody of the Foundation are only dedicated for strict conservation. In that sense, what trends, challenges and concerns do you see? Is it time to make a serious commitment to strict conservation?

Yes, definitely. And not as a commitment, but as a necessity.

There is a majority of forest masses dedicated to cultivation and production and there is a minimal part dedicated to being forests, nothing more (and nothing less). It is urgent to find a balance between the two.

Well-preserved forests have a long list of environmental benefits that are not comparable to those of cultivation, including the fact that, as science has already has demonstrated, they are better at combating climate change and even if this were not the case, is it not legitimate to preserve a part of our landscape and our natural and cultural heritage?

The radiograph of the forests in the Basque Autonomous Community show us the current state of them. What near, not so far and distant future do you wish for the forests? 

In Gipuzkoa and, above all in Biscay, because in Álava the situation is not so serious, there are barely any forests with a certain entity left, just a few small masses, with no connection between them. Some oak groves or beech forests, which mainly favor a single species and do not have the same biodiversity as a mixed forest.

There is a tendency throughout the Basque Autonomous Community, at a productive level, which is to switch from pine to eucalyptus and Cryptomeria japonica cultivation, and this means a greater deterioration.

But there are also more initiatives to recover native forests, at a civil society level and some municipalities, which are becoming aware and developing restoration projects.

The future that we hope for in our forests is a better balance between crops and nature. We cannot give up the former, but we are giving up the latter, and that is not convenient either. Patches of native forests must be recovered, and they must also be larger and, above all, connected to each other. Balance must be the future. 

People and forests, forests and people. In the present moment in which we are find ourselves and departing from the Elton Trueblood’s phrase stated on your website “A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit”, with what words would you end the interview?

Well, following on with the previous question, we do not aspire to a utopia in which most of the land area reverts to its original state, and becomes a forest. But we do dream of having many large forests. Healthy forests that are not dominated by humans, but by nature as a whole. And that hosts all the biodiversity of which they are capable, with an infinite number of species of flora, fauna, fungi and all the complex relationships they establish between them and which, as we have already seen, are vital for the health of the planet and for our own health as a species.

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