In 2003, a record year for fires, 152,081 acres (61,545 hectares) of France’s Mediterranean forestland went up in smoke. With the coming of each new summer, inhabitants brace for more such conflagrations. The trees of the southern region, most of which are conifers (Aleppo pines, for example), are hightly vulnerable to wildfires, which are fanned by the mistral. In reponse, the government has sought to re-create the links with the forest that man has lost. For example, the individuals who privately own 71 percent of France’s forestland are now compelled by law to clear the undergrowth. The Mediterranean forest, abandoned by farmers, invaded by brush, and overmuch visited by tourists, is constantly at risk owing to people’s carelessness–and even to arson. In spite of all this, French forestlands continue to grow ; they covered 17 million acres (7 million hectares) at the end of the eighteenth century, and they cover 37 million acres (15 million hectares) today–more than 27 percent of the land area of metropolitan France. This heritage, which is unique to Europe, results from a deliberate policy of reforestation, which has been the rule ever since 1945. Meanwhile, between tourists hungry for green spaces and local imperatives bent on protecting them, conflicts over the use of woodlands continue to escalate.
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