Trees such as the “Castanea sativa” considered to be emblematically Galician were actually imported by the Romans. Hence, the term “indigenous” is relative. Instead of depending on scientific knowledge it sometimes relies on the memory of society as my grandfather used to say. He studied Forestry Engineer and his passion was transmitted to his grandchildren with plenty of stories and projects. One common subject was the plantation of the Eucalyptus in Galicia and its impact.
The Eucalyptus was introduced in Galicia by Father Salvado in the mid-nineties as a private initiative. Nevertheless, the government afterwards implemented a policy, which favoured the plantation of this now controversial tree. Why controversial?
Based on generalization it should be said that the eucalyptus is seen as a threat to ecosystems. It has been seen as a tree that impoverishes the soil, water as well as the fauna even when planted in non-cultivated areas. Even some countries have actually prohibited the plantation of eucalyptus. Nonetheless, one should be careful to make this vast simplification. According to the FAO, there is no universal answer on whether the plantation of this tree implies positive or negative effects.
Therefore, a balance of costs and social benefits should be made. What is the situation in Galicia?
The productivity or profitability of the Eucalyptus in Galicia is high (hectare/year). Under the same conditions, this tree tends to multiply an indigenous tree productivity by 15. This implies that the eucalyptus´cutting periods are from 12 to 20 years; a luxury compared to the so-called indigenous species. This implies saving in time and money in regards to reforestation. What is more, it needs to be taken into account that fire favours its reproduction; hence, this tree helps to balance the impact of fires. Nonetheless, the eucalyptus has some negative impacts on the environment, which are also interlinked to the social aspects.
The eucalyptus used to enhance the socio-economic development of rural Galicia by providing the land workers with the advantages of wood. Nonetheless, the situation has changed. Now, the logging companies control the market lowering the prices of wood. As a consequence, the countrymen try to exploit the Eucalyptus as much as they can. Due to this intensive exploitation, forests are neither able to achieve their climax nor the conservation of the ecosystem is maintained. Hence, the negative impact on the environment increases while the social benefit decreases.
Therefore, the conclusion we could draw from this, is that reforestation is not as simple as it can be seen. It is not about tree planting since choosing the right specie as well as counterbalancing both the social and the ecological implications becomes a challenge.