Marganai State Forest is located in the south-western part of Sardinia (Italy) and extends in a single body of about 3650 hectares on the Linas mountain massif (Figure 1
). It is mainly located in the municipality of Domusnovas (with more than 6000 inhabitants). Smaller portions fall in other municipalities: Iglesias (more than 26,000 inhabitants) and Fluminimaggiore (about 3000 inhabitants). These municipalities occupy an area of 2324 km2
. The northern side of the Marganai forest, about 450 ha, is included in the Natura 2000 network as a Site of Community Interest (SCI), “Monte Linas-Marganai ITB 041111”. In 1979, the Marganai forest was bought by the Italian government. Today it is managed by the Agenzia Fo.Re.S.T.A.S. (Forest Agency of the Sardinia Region).
1.1.1. The 19th and 20th Centuries
Historically, the Marganai State Forest overlaps with the forested area that in the 19th century was known as Oridda County (Figure 1
). The story of this area is representative for the wide mining area of Sardinia called “Sulcis-Iglesiente”. Oridda County became government property after the law of 1835 and was granted almost entirely to the municipality of Domusnovas. After the abolition of the fiefdoms, some of the woods were sold through private negotiations. In 1857, Oridda was sold to Count Beltrami. The count, a businessman and seller of timber, bought Oridda County in 1857 and was the first to use the forest for production purposes at an industrial level. In 1864 he sold the property to a mining company interested in the exploitation of the subsoil. The ownership passed to several mining companies, including the Scarzella family business, which held it for 55 years, from 1896 to 1951. Furthermore, in 1856, the firm John Taylor & Sons, seated in London, floated a company to pursue mining interest in these “celebrated” lead mines. The mining activity also resulted in the intensive exploitation of the forest’s resources [17
]. The intense production of coal has continued for about a century and continued until 1970. The structure of the forest and the dense network of mule tracks and charcoal burner’s posts (Figure 2
) bear witness to this silvicultural history.
In the last decades of the 20th century, the Marganai State Forest has been managed with a conservation approach, due to the abandonment of rural areas and the decline in demand for charcoal. Some parts of the forest have been thinned, aiming towards the conversion to high forest, while others have been left to natural evolution. Coal production is only a memory of the past and the production of firewood in the area is now limited to very small private properties.
1.1.2. The 21st Century
The Marganai forest has been left mainly to natural evolution (no silvicultural operations) from the 1980s to today, resulting in holm oak coppice of 40 to 50 years old. In 2010, with the double aim of recovering the 150-year-old historical silvicultural practices and to favor a local, sustainable forest chain for firewood, the Forest Agency implemented a management plan for a small portion of the Marganai forest’s surface, less than 600 ha. Of this area, 354 ha were allocated to the reactivation of the traditional coppicing system [18
The present case study has developed from a series of key events. Two other important planning processes initiated short after the 2010 forest management had started. The Marganai forest was included in a larger operation: the drafting of a forest management plan for the 13 state-owned forests in Sardinia [19
]. Beside this, the renewal of the SCI management plan “Monte Linas-Marganai ITB 041111”.
The larger planning operation activated interesting participatory processes for each forest. The first meeting for the Marganai forest was held in 2011, carrying out the information phase and presenting the planning project already underway.
The second meetings took place in 2013 and saw a moment of exchange between the local population, forest users, and planners. The interesting aspect is that the importance of the recreational and touristic function and that of the productive enhancement of the forest emerged in this context, as opportunities to revive the local economy and to meet the needs of the local market. The communities explicitly raised a request for firewood. The planners responded, identifying productive areas suited for the reactivation of the coppice system (personal communication).
In the same period, the professionals involved in the renewal of the plan for the Margani SCI expressed very strong concerns about the activation of coppice practices in the Marganai area. During the third participatory meeting, held in Iglesias in 2014, the professionals involved in this SCI’s planned renewal denounced the high risk of erosive phenomena triggered by such a silvicultural operation [21
]. However, [22
] questioned their results, showing that their data did not support their interpretation of the facts.
The case has been amplified in the media and moved from local to national newspapers [13
]. The media, following the criticisms highlighted by the professionals, further amplified the case, publishing titles and phrases like “The prehistoric forest that becomes firewood”, “disastrous environmental consequences”, and “deforestation of Marganai forest”, just to mention a few.
The impact on the media has influenced local and national forest policies. The landscape superintendent at the regional level, pressured by the information disseminated by the media, investigated the case, and finally blocked the silvicultural works, launching a legal quibble. The planned developed of the identified productive area has been submitted to the authorities in accordance with the regulations in force for the Marganai forest. The interpretation of the legislation did not help the case and the length of the bureaucracy did not allow it to be resolved. Besides being marginally interested by a SCI, the whole forest is actually under a double bound (according to the following Italian laws: Legge 29 June 1939, n. 1497, “Protezione delle bellezze naturali”, published in the G.U. n. 241 in the 14/10/1939; and D. Lgs. 22 Juanary 2004, n. 42, “Codice dei Beni culturali e del Paesaggio”, published in the G.U. n. 45 in the 24/02/2004, s.o. n. 28). The procedures required for authorization are not straightforward. As some environmentalists raised the case with the administrative authorities, local operations have been blocked, waiting for clarifications. Moreover, the silvicultural operations in all the other coppice systems in Sardinia (and also in other regions) have been severely limited. The difficulty in interpreting the legislation has caused a blockage of the sector, stopping proposals for new forest management plans. All the people responsible for the planning process and the implementation of the Marganai silvicultural works have been reported.
The stop has also had economic consequences on the local and larger population. For the implementation of the silvicultural operations, the Forestas Agency had issued a call for a tender [24
]. The contract was awarded to a company in the neighboring town of Domusnovas. The silvicultural operations started in 2010 but were halted by the authorities in 2014. The forestry company was sued. People lost jobs and the company lost the possibility of recovering its economic investment finally heading to its failure and to the closure of the company.
The “Marganai case” is still remembered by the Italian scientific community as an example of distorted information spread by the media and of conflicts both between forest perception and forestry and between effective legal competences and legislation interpretation.