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How Is This Ancient Cattle Breed Fighting Wildfires in Portugal?

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Portugal is one of the most vulnerable countries in Europe to climate change. Straddling the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic regions, it’s part of a climate change hot spot. Some of the biggest fuels are shrubs. One study found that shrubland covers 1.6 million hectares in Portugal—about 18 percent of the nation’s land area. And those shrubs are gaining ground. That’s because, for decades, people have been moving out of rural communities such as the one Tommy Ferreira lives in. Most leave to pursue better-paying jobs in the cities or in wealthier European Union countries. Portugal has lost 30 percent of its rural population since 1960. The same trend is occurring across the Mediterranean region. Abandoning these farmlands is increasing wildfire risk, according to an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report released last spring. When people who work the land leave it, grazing pastures and farm fields become thick with fuels. But these ancient Maronesa cattle can help solve both of these modern-day problems. It was a solution hiding in plain sight.

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