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Fires: only 9% of French forests are insured

More than 20,000 hectares of maritime pines gone up in smoke in Gironde, nearly 1,800 hectares of vegetation burned in the Monts d’Arrée in Brittany, 1,200 hectares charred in Ardèche, a megafire in the Gard, a fire in the Bouches-du-Rhône , in the Landes… the month of July was particularly hot and devastating for French forests. In total, more than 587,868 hectares have burned since the start of the year, when the average was 132,910 from 2006 to 2021, according to the latest record figures from the European Forest Fire Information System (Effis) relayed by The world, while the fire season is not even over. However, the fires that affected France this summer will increase in the future, with an extension of the fire season (June to the end of September) and an emphasis on risk areas, warns Benoît Reymond, fire defense expert for the ONF (National Forestry Office). A situation that is all the more problematic as the forests are mostly private, and very poorly insured.

Three quarters of the forests in France are private

Private owners concentrate three-quarters of the woods on the territory, ie 12.6 million hectares out of 17 million. And alone, 2 million “very small owners” own more than three million hectares of private land. However, these small forests are often unmanaged, “by default”, explains Benoît Reymond. However, it is the most virgin forests that carry the greatest risk of fire spreading in the event of a fire, warns François Cariou, Engineer in charge of development at Fransylva, the federation of private forestry unions in France.

Lack of insurance, a risk for the environment

Faced with the disaster scenario of the multiplication of “megafires” in France, “obviously linked to climate change, which makes vegetation more available to fires”, according to the ONF, only 9% of forests are insured against damage caused to third parties ( forest owners are responsible for the damage caused by their trees), or to finance their reforestation.

Marked by the deadly fires of 1949 which devastated 50,000 hectares of the Landes de Gascogne woods and killed 82 people, the stronghold of the Landes is the most secure of French territory: 25% of the massif, against 6% of the 12.6 million French private hectares. On average, only 9% of private French forests are therefore insured against fire, according to a study by Assurland.com.

A lack of insurance (optional) which does not encourage owners to reforest in the event of fire, and which can therefore be problematic for the environment. The French forest park indeed captures 17% of the annual carbon emissions of its territory, according to the Federation of Private Forestry Unions. After a forest fire, “except in particular regions”, such as the Mediterranean, where the vegetation adapts to the climate (up to a certain degree), and regenerates, “reforestation (covered by insurance) must be privileged to better store carbon and store quality wood” recalls François Cariou, not to mention the benefits of forests for biodiversity.

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No regular income

In question: insurance that is too expensive in relation to income from logging, which dissuades private owners from protecting themselves, explain the main insurers and comparators, Sylvassur, XLB Assurances and Assurland.com. “Forest exploitation does not provide regular income. You have to wait 40 to 50 years to have the fruits of the exploitation of a pine, when 120 years are necessary for an oak tree. Some owners therefore see no interest to ensure a wood from which they derive no benefit. If you are the generation that harvests, everything is fine, if you are the generation that plants, or worse, the one, intermediate, who must maintain the wood, it is less funny ” , analyzes Xavier de la Bretesche, CEO of XLB Assurances. “On average, the forest insurance niche market offers contracts of around twenty euros per hectare and per year, for compensation of between 1,000 and 5,000 euros per insured hectare, depending on the type of forest, the nature species and the damage threshold” according to Olivier Moustacakis, general manager and co-founder of Assurland.com, knowing that reforestation costs between 3,000 to 8,000 euros per hectare, according to the president of Fransylva quoted by France news, Antoine d’Amécourt.

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90% tax reduction on insurance against storms, nothing for fires

Since 2011, the agricultural modernization law allows a tax reduction of 90% on the expense incurred for the subscription of an insurance contract covering woods and forests against storm risk. A gesture of the state which is not extended to the risk of fire, to the great regret of Xavier de la Bretesche, while this would make it possible to finance fire insurance by means other than forest revenues. Beyond the loss of forest capital, the problem of fires that ravage the woods is also becoming collective, explains the ONF. If there are no more trees, nothing can stop the rain: in areas sensitive to natural hazards such as rockfalls, torrential falls or falling trees, these threats will be exacerbated by the occurrence of the fire.

But unlike these risks classified as natural disasters which can be compensated by the Barnier fund, the major natural risk prevention fund (FPRNM) – fed by a 12% tax on home insurance – fire risks do not not fall into this category, in question they are of human origin. They cannot therefore be supported by the State. Only one-off state aid can compensate the uninsured. “Some would like to include the fire risk in a natural disaster, but the State is already in deficit: it compensates more than it collects”, explains Olivier Moustacakis.

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