Bison were driven to extinction in Spain 10,000 years ago, but cave paintings and historic records indicate that they widely roamed the Iberian peninsula for 1.2m years before they became extinct.
Today, through various conservation innitiatives, the wild bison population has grown to around 8,400 - and their rebound is offering new opportunities in the field of wildfire prevention.
Warming weather combined with declining sheep populations has created hazardous fire conditions. Last year, fires consumed 45,000 hectares according to government estimates, the year before 60,000 hectares, and there are signs that, as in California and Australia, the fires are becoming more frequent and more intense. Fortunately, bison eat 30kg of vegetation a day, cutting back brush while digging up the land to promote diversified growth.
Forest clearance of this type costs approximately €3,000 (£2,600) a hectare - and the bison are kindly doing it for free.
“The European bison delivers immediate biodiversity,” says Fernando Morán, a veterinarian who is director of the European Bison Conservation Center of Spain. “It opens up dense parts of the forest which lets in the light and allows grass to grow instead of scrub, which lowers fire risk and, in turn, benefits numerous species through food and freedom of movement.”
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