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Integration of forests, policy and mindsets

Written by Lison Ambroise & Sara Helsen

As part of the IFSA (International Forestry Students’ Organisation) delegation, we had the opportunity to take part in the conference “Governing and managing forests for multiple ecosystem services across the globe” in Bonn. The event did not only gather experts from many different countries, but also transdisciplinarity was the watchword: participants ranged from the field of forest policy to forest management research, and from practitioner to policymaker. 

During the introductory panel, the projects responsible for the organization of the conference were presented. Both the INFORMAR (Integrated Forest Management Learning Architecture) and the POLYFORES (Decision-making support for Forest Ecosystem Services in Europe) project were introduced by Georg Winkel (Head of EFI Bonn), while the Research Training Group ConFoBi (Conservation of Forest Biodiversity in Multiple-Use Landscapes of Central Europe) was presented by Jürgen Bauhus (Freiburg University). After a welcome note by Eva Müller, Head of the Forestry Department of the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the first plenary started with a global overview of today’s forest management and practices, a “Tour de la Planète”. From Robert Nasi (Center for International Forest Research, Natalia Lukina (Russian Academy of Sciences), Christian Messier (Université du Québec à Montréal), Ulrich Schraml (Forest Research Institute of Baden-Württemberg), and Eduardo Rojas Briales (Polytechnic University of Valencia) we learned about European forests, tropical forests, Boreal forests – including differences between Russia and Sweden –, Australian and northern American ones, as well as Mediterranean forests. It was obvious that, depending on the localization of the forests and the societal context, the perception of forest ecosystem services differs a lot, as well as forest management. According to Robert Nasi, in some tropical forests, the informal sector accounts for ten times more logging than the formal one and the deforestation rate is still increasing, so what we call “sustainable management” does not seem to be the solution. In Russia, Australia, Canada, and the US, forest management is predominantly segregated, while many European countries apply an integrative approach. Segregation versus integration, that was a returning question. We were impressed by the creativity of Ulrich Schraml (Forest Research Institute of Baden-Württemberg) who illustrated a history of segregation and reintegration using bowling pins in different colors.

Ulrich Schraml using an interactive metaphor to explain integrated forest management. Photo credit: Jakob Derks

He also used walls as a metaphor for explaining the issue of competing forest functions like timber production and recreation, explaining that it depends on which side you are This issue, that the bioeconomy trend – using wood for different purposes – is increasing together with protest against cutting trees, was also mentioned by different speakers. And last but not least, collaboration between different actors and forest stakeholders, communication, and local engagement were three key terms in this first session, and further in the conference.

The participants were then split into three different rooms: One focussed on European forests, another side session elaborated on how to involve society in managing forests. The discussion in the third room, was centered around the role of economics in forest management. One of us stayed in the room where the integration of society in forest management was discussed. From the presented results of a study about how citizens perceive and value forest ecosystem services, we learned that people’s perception of the forest is highly related to their gender and age. Obviously, women generally consider forests to be more important than men do. And the older the respondents to the conducted survey, the more they were convinced that forests are important. 

The other one of us attended the presentations about ‘forests in Europe’, where researchers talked about decision-making processes in Europe. Ownership and who ‘the society’ is – those who are the loudest? – were discussed, as well as the challenge of managing forests for future generations, since we cannot predict their demands. It was concluded that decisions need to be knowledge-based and that the target of forest resilience, which increases when we mix species, could guide the decision making.

The academic part of the day concluded with a poster session, where results of very recent studies on several aspects of forest ecosystem services were presented. This form of presentation enabled us to have a good overview and also to easily raise questions afterward during the networking dinner.

On the second day, researchers from different research fields (political science, economics, silviculture research, and nature conservation) expressed themselves and presented how their research fields can help to answer the questions of the conference:

  • How are trade-offs and synergies between different forest ecosystem services perceived, governed and managed across Europe and beyond?
  • What concepts exist for integrated forest management, what drives them (policy/market/environmental change, social demands), including their implementation in practice, and what are their prospects for the future?
  • What do we know about how such management concepts impact the ecological structures and interactions in forests, and how are these linked to specific outcomes (biodiversity, ecosystem services)?

According to Eeva Primmer (Finnish Environment Institute), political science can be of great help in the sustainability debates by identifying sources of stability or friction and understanding the role, rights, responsibilities and power of different actors.

Lison and Sara tweeting from the conference, for example about the presentation of Eeva Primmer from the Finnish Environment Institute.

She gave a clear overview of arguments and counterarguments on using and compensating ecosystem services. From the economic side, Jette Bredahl Jacobsen (Copenhagen University) underlined that economics can contribute to improve knowledge on how values of things are changing and especially what the substitution patterns for both marketed and non-marketed goods are. She explained that in a well-functioning market the price reflects the trade-offs, but that the market for ecosystem services is not functioning well. Klaus Puettman (Oregon State University), for his part, has put forward that silvicultural research provides numerous data which could be used to assess ecosystem services. Finally, Pierre Ibisch (Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development) came back on the fir dieback that strongly affects Europe and presented a thermodynamic approach for ecosystems, saying then that “creating sustainable forests is not about taking species from everywhere, but more about putting together species that work as a whole”. In the end, it seems that those four disciplines have a lot to contribute to the underlying debates that go along with the notion of ecosystem services and their perception, as well as to the questions revolving around integrated forest management, its implementation and its outcomes. 

Sara and Lison, supporting the organization team of the conference and probably discussing Integrated Forest Management! Photo credit: Maria Schlossmacher

After the plenary, the participants had again the chance to choose between three options for sessions. In the plenary room, the presentations discussed different views on ecosystem services. This involved for example a comparison between different legislations on non-native forest tree species, a presentation on emerging “Ecosystems Services Forestry (ESF)” & “Forest Services Industry” in Japan as well a talk on how spiritual forest ecosystem services are (re)discovered both in Europe and Asia.

In side room 1 we assessed different forest management approaches. This involved amongst others a comparison of the two different concepts “Resilience” and “Ecosystem Services”, how we can use these concepts, and how they can complement each other. We also listened to a presentation on conflicting societal demands in forest management in the era of bioeconomy – increasing wood demand together with demands for preservation of forests and biodiversity – and another one dealing with watersheds and ecotourism in the mediterranean region. Finally, we learned how integrated modeling can be used to assess interactions between multiple forest ecosystem services in Russia. Synergies and trade-offs between growing stock and nature development scenarios, organic matter accumulation, carbon stocks, and recreational capacity, were looked at and combined in integrated models. The third room was dealing with Ecological structures and functional diversity in European forests.

After lunch, there was again the possibility to choose between different topics. Both of us went into the session on forest policies and their implementation. There, we talked about the level of vertical and horizontal policy integration in Sweden, Austria, Germany, Spain, and Russia. The assessment of the horizontal integration indicated that although there are conflicts between nature conservation and forest production, there are synergies between climate mitigation, renewable energy and products in Sweden and between climate mitigation and nature conservation in Germany, Austria, and Spain. Concerning the vertical integration, we learned that there is sectoral integration with partly overlapping responsibilities in Sweden and Austria, and that in Germany and Spain there are strong sectoral boundaries and sectoral competition, and that there is sectoral division in Russia. Furthermore, a paper about the evolution of the different concepts and approaches in forest policy in the UK was presented, followed by a talk on the INFORMAR project which assessed the integration of nature conservation into forest management. Here we learned that the environmental knowledge in society is growing, but that this knowledge can be rather selective: there is not much understanding on forestry measures, while people know more and more on nature conservation. A case study on Ecuador shed light on the fact that improved governance can help reduce deforestation. Finally, the role of Voluntary Partner Agreements (VPAs) in tropical forests, evolving from regulation to governance, was explained.

Apart from this session, there was a session on “Managing forests in an era of change”. There, four speakers from all over the world presented their research on the effects of forestry treatments, the potential of forest growth models, and climate change adaptation measures. The third parallel session was called “Ecosystem services: Innovation and Learning” where different surveys and living labs were presented.

The afternoon continued with a field trip to the Kottenforst. “You can’t be talking about forest policy and forest management without going into the forest”, stated Georg Winkel from EFI. As part of the 60 000 hectares large Villeforests, the Kottenforst covers 3,900 ha of which 2,324 ha are Natura 2000 area. “As there is very few forest per person, all forest functions [wood production, nature protection, climate mitigation, and recreation] need to be accomplished on the same square meter”, explained Uwe Schölmerich, chief of the Forest Enterprise Rhein-Sieg-Erft. Close-to-nature, mixed forests are therefore the way to go. Spruce monocultures are gradually converted into multilayered, structured stands. Farmer-forester Paul Freiherr von Boeselager, compared the forest to a history book. “While you’re walking through the forest, you’re reading it and you can see the changes in demands.” The participants were able to follow very different and personal perspectives about heritage restriction. He also underlined: “The forest is a storybook. Not a museum”. Klaus Striepen from the local forest service, talked about the effects of natural disturbances (storm, bark beetle) and drought on this site. Klaus also elaborated on future options (reforestation/regeneration) and on the role of game management.

Warming up after one of few snowfalls this winter. Photo credit: Jakob Derks

Monika Hachtel and Peter Tröltzsch from Biologische Station (Biological Station) Bonn, together with Andreas Schuck from EFI explained at the last station the importance of special microhabitat-trees and nature conservation in general. After this excursion, we got warm again close to the campfire, with glühwein and food.

In the evening, a public event in the form of a panel discussion took place. It was introduced by two scientists from which Gert-Jan Nabuurs (Wageningen University) elaborated on climate-smart forestry and Jorgen Bo Larsen gave a perspective of the developing understanding of the term “biodiversity”, evolving from “biological diversity where you have removed the logical” to what we understand today. “Closer to nature, and closer to people”. After this introduction, the more political panel discussion started where different panelists had the opportunity to express their views on the future of multifunctional forest management in the context of the European Green Deal. It was obvious that many of them put forward the contraction between three forest ecosystem services: carbon storage and nature conservation versus biomass production. Luc Bas (IUCN European Regional Office) started and expressed that we should take the planetary boundaries as the bottom line and that we should restore the forests in a landscape context, serving the local people and bringing all stakeholders together. Mads Jensen (Danish Nature Agency) stressed the importance of collaboration as well – “It is not a matter of integration or segregation. We need to have a mixture of both”. However, Eva Müller (BMEL) chose one of the two, and stated that forest production and conservation can go hand in hand in an integrated, balanced approach. Humberto Delgado-Rosa (DG Environment) emphasized that even if there is “bio” in the noun “biomass”, it does not mean it is sustainable. And voicing the private forest owners, Bernhard Budil (Austrian “Land- und Forstbetriebe”) mentioned the fact that it is difficult to be independent as a forest owner, but also very important – “We don’t want payment or subsidies for forest ecosystem services. We want these services to be on the market”. The audience could then ask questions, and very interesting points have been raised. It was concluded that the Green Deal gives ambitious targets that are needed, but we will all have to work together. Emotions and polarized viewpoints should be reunited in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, together with a sustainable wood production.

On the last day, access to the conference was restricted to invited stakeholders, the conference committee and scientists from Polyfores and INFORMAR projects. In the frame of the INFORMAR project, the main impeding and facilitating factors for the integration of nature conservation in nine different countries have been identified. Among others, the mentioned impeding factors were the lack of incentives (both financial and not financial) and the trade-offs between production and protection. The oppositions that arise between nature conservation and climate change adaptation were also presented. For example, from the nature conservation point of view, deadwood should be left in the forest on the contrary to a climate change adaptation point of view, which would advocate for removing it. We learned that the two approaches are also controversial concerning the use of non-native tree species. 

The POLYFORES project assessed how different groups of citizens perceive and value forest ecosystem services and what role these values play in shaping citizens’ attitudes and forest ecosystem service prioritization.

The participants could then choose between two policy workshops about problems and instruments/solutions in the implementation of the two research projects in forestry: one of them was from the forest enterprise perspective (“bottom-up”), the other was from the policy perspective (“top down”). It was nice to see how close the results from the different workshops were to each other. The removal of harmful subsidies, an innovative platform for communication, and business-led-initiatives would help to tackle the implementation issue. 

IFSA Students and part of EFI staff. Photo credit: Maria Schlossmacher

To conclude, those three days were very intense with a lot of information and people passionate about forests, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. We, as IFSA students, learned a lot, and we are very thankful to have had this possibility to participate in this very well-organized forest conference.


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