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Adapting forests to climate change: methods, tools, and projects

What does climate change adaptation look like in Southern France? Is there anything we – in Central Europe – can learn from our colleagues in the South? Is risk management an issue there and do forest risk experts know the European Forest Risk Facility?

These were the questions – among others – that I had before attending the international symposium “Adapting forests to climate change: methods, tools, and projects” on 19-20 November 2019 in Toulouse, France.

The symposium was organized by the FORECCAST project, partially funded through the EU LIFE project,  aiming to provide Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park producers and forest managers with means to build a forest management strategy that takes into account the impact of climate change. Goal of the project is to raise awareness of the challenges posed by global change among stakeholders, elected representatives and the general public within that region.

I was invited to share the lessons learned during the past five years of the German KoNeKKTiW project, which connects and qualifies stakeholders in forestry to appropriately address challenges of climate change. The main objective of the project is to build a bridge between already existing scientific knowledge and directly applicable knowledge. Experience shows that practitioners often lack relevant and applicable information regarding climate change. This affects their risk management decisions and often hinders climate change adaptation measures.

The setting of the event was quite official and hosted in the Hôtel de Region d’Occitanie in Toulouse. The participants were comprised of forest adaptation experts from across Europe, forest researchers, representatives of French forestry institutions and foresters from the region, as well as interested citizens from the region. This highly diverse crowd created an enriching atmosphere during the hallway mingling and poster sessions, as well as very vivid discussions in the Q&A sessions following the presentations.

Photo: Delphine Bernard
Photo: Delphine Bernard

The topics covered during the oral presentations were equally diverse and ranged from forest conservation projects (Fôret de la Massane; one of the oldest forest reserves in France) to improved thinning practices in commercial forest plantations (LIFE RESILIENTFORESTS; to improve watershed and fire management). Insights were shared from global (IDENT) and European (REINFFORCE) research trial networks to regional site classification programs (FORSITE), from national carbon sequestration schemes (LIFE FOREST CO2) to knowledge transfer projects related to risk and crisis management (KoNeKKTiW).

To me the combination of local and international topics felt perfectly curated. The organizers managed to connect different fields and disciplines – all under the umbrella of climate change adaptation in forests. This created space to have broader discussions reaching across the trenches that often exist within the forest sector and enabled participants to start exploring solutions together. Seeing that all across Europe foresters and forest scientists have realized that climate change is real and are taking ambitious actions leaves me hopeful that there will be forest in the future – despite the rough times that we are certainly facing.

Having the honor to be one of the last presenters, addressing the topic of risk and crisis management fitted quite well to round off a long day. In my presentation, I pointed out that the intensity and frequency of climate change-related natural disasters will increase. Thus, adequate preparation and prevention measures are required. Based on the experience from the KoNeKKTiW project in the German forest sector, I emphasized the importance of creating networks at all levels and sharing and exchanging knowledge to face the challenges together. The European Forest Risk Facility initiative served as a successful example for cross-border collaboration and coordination; notably the Risk Facility’s role in initiating the collaboration of Swedish and Spanish firefighters to tackle the wild fires in Sweden during the summer of 2018 served as a prime example. Finally, all attendees know now that such an initiative exists at a European level and will hopefully remember that they are not alone if facing an unprecedented crisis.

The second day was complemented by a field tour to the Montagne Noire, where we visited three trial sites within the Haut-Languedoc Regional Nature Park. Particular for this region is the fact that three different climate zones intersect here: the Atlantic climate in the west, the mountainous climate in the north and the Mediterranean climate in the south. This leads to a high diversity of ecosystems, which change completely within a few kilometers. Consequently, the effects of climate change become directly visible in this area, and thus provide an interesting object of study for various adaptation measures.

Parc naturel régional du Haut-Languedoc (photo: By Maxime Jourde)
Parc naturel régional du Haut-Languedoc (photo: Maxime Jourde)

Within the project, eight silvicultural trial sites have been established, where adaptation measures are tested and demonstrated in existing forest stands. Furthermore, eight sites of mixed plantations with varying species ratios and compositions have been planted. In addition three arboreta with more than 30 auspicious species adapted to climate change were established. The majority of the sites is privately owned forest. They will be managed and supervised by the National Forest Ownership Centre (CNPF) after the FORECCAST project is over.

During the excursion we could see the freshly planted sites as well as try some of the mobile apps that have been developed within the project to advise forest managers. It was exciting to me that actual field trials have been set up – and not just another computer-based species distribution model. I believe that in the future these trials will turn out to be very valuable for further research. It was also surprising to me that the forests in this area are so productive, with rotation lengths for silver fir and Douglas fir of less than 70 years. A key element for the success of the project was the continuous involvement of private forest owners, who highly depend on their forest for income generation in the region. In this context, the action plan for severe climate change crises, which has been developed during the project, seems highly relevant. However, in conversations I heard that it has not yet been tested or applied. So let us hope that it is not just another nice document and instead will be used when needed – or even better, used to prevent and prepare for the crisis.

Overall, it was beneficial to see the diversity of forest adaptation efforts across Europe and to connect and exchange with other experts. In my opinion, the combination of an international event with a regional focus has been very fruitful. Climate change is affecting all regions across the globe, yet adaptation measures have to be developed within a regional context, informed by global knowledge and the exchange of experiences.

Author: Jakob Hörl works for the Department of Forest Economics and Management at Forest Research Institute Baden-Württemberg, Freiburg, Germany.

Featured image: Parc naturel régional du Haut-Languedoc by Juliane Casquet


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