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Meet the Integrate Chair 2024!

In a rotating chairmanship, each year, the members of the Integrate Network vote for the chair . This approach provides chair countries, among others, with the initiative to take up relevant topics during their chairmanship and shape the network’s activities. Following Michel Leytem from Luxembourg last year, Georg Frank will chair the Integrate Network in 2024.

The interview was originally published on the Integrate website

Georg Frank, is Head of Unit of Natural Forest Reserves at the Federal Forest Research Center (BFW). His dedication to the advancement of sustainable forestry practices is exemplified by his active involvement in Pro Silva Austria, where he has been a board member since 1991 and held the position of Chairman from 2006 to 2012. He has also served as the Chair of the COST Action ‘Protected Forest Areas in Europe – Analysis and Harmonisation’ (2002-2007). It aimed at better understanding types and categories of protected forest areas throughout Europe and in this way contribute to the process of harmonising them within the context of existing international protected forest area systems. It highlighted the importance of integrating nature conservation in forest management to effectively halt the loss of biodiversity, as managed forests represent the majority of forests in Europe.

Throughout his career, Georg has remained a dedicated advocate for integrative forest management, contributing significantly to both national and international efforts in the realm of forestry and nature conservation.

You are the Chair of the Integrate Network in 2024. What was your motivation to take over the chairmanship?

I was involved almost from the beginning. I have always particularly enjoyed the co-operation between scientists, practitioners and decision-makers. The basic idea is not just to concentrate the conservation of biodiversity only segregatively in protected areas, but to promote it within normal forest management through mostly simple and cost-effective measures or even omissions. Biodiversity is not a product, but a prerequisite for sustainably functioning ecosystems. The implementation of the idea of integrative nature conservation in forests can only succeed through intensive dialogue between the actors mentioned.

If you had to describe a typical Austrian forest to people who have never visited Austria before, what would it look like?

The Austrian forest is typically a mixed forest consisting of several tree species. Of course, due to the climate, e.g. in the Alps, there are also pure conifer stands, often intensively utilised as commercial forests. A special feature is that the vast majority of Austrian forests are privately owned, often consisting of very small plots of land. This also creates diversity. A large part of the Austrian forest is also protective forest, which protects human infrastructure from natural hazards such as avalanches, rockfall and mudflows. Simply abandoning utilisation would lead to a safety risk. In protective forests, too, biodiversity that is as intact as possible is a prerequisite for the forest’s ability to adapt to changing climatic conditions.

What do you see as the most pressing challenges in forestry in Europe, and how do you believe they can be addressed?

The biggest challenge is certainly the climate crisis. Disturbances of all kinds are already becoming more frequent. However, we do not need another forest that is resistant to this, but a resilient forest that recovers quickly from disturbances that we cannot predict. This requires the greatest possible risk diversification through biodiversity, namely at the landscape level, the species level and the genetic diversity level. However, demographic changes also have an impact on the forest. In contrast to undifferentiated, schematic forest management, near-natural, small-scale forest management requires highly motivated owners and highly trained skilled workers. It is becoming increasingly difficult to have these available in the long term. Even the most well-founded concepts are useless if nobody implements them in the forest. We therefore need to make working in the forest attractive again.

The objective of the Integrate Network is to promote integrative forest management. Looking through your Austrian lens: How is “integrative forest management” applied in Austria and where do you see the biggest challenge in implementing this concept broadly?

Close-to-nature silviculture is a good prerequisite for realising this idea. Of course, monotonous age-class forests can also be enriched with deadwood, but a differentiated forest structure and special biotope elements are missing in these forests. On the other hand, for a long time the objectives of near-natural silviculture were focused on the most cost-effective production of valuable, defect-free timber, with biodiversity not being an objective. The aims of close-to-nature silviculture must therefore definitely be expanded to include the goal of preserving and promoting biodiversity. The greatest challenge is to find a balance between the necessary economic utilisation and measures or omissions to promote biodiversity. And we must not forget the fact that costs are also incurred as a result of partial utilisation restrictions. These should be assessed so that the services that forest owners provide are clearly acknowledged.

Why is integrative forest management important for preserving biodiversity in a European context?

Strictly protected forest areas in the sense of segregative nature conservation only cover around 3% of European forests and are also very unevenly distributed. But what happens on the remaining 97% in terms of biodiversity conservation? Measures to promote biodiversity can be integrated into tried and tested silvicultural concepts with relatively little effort. In this way improvements in conserving and enhancing biodiversitycan be achieved across the whole area. Such integrative approaches continue to allow for further, necessary utilisation of European forests for wood production, and mitigate the need for increase of wood imports from other countries and continents to satisfy consumption needs. This said implies, that silvicultural methods need to be adapted to this expansion of the objective of biodiversity conservation.

What in your opinion is the benefit of being a member of the Integrate Network – Where do you see its biggest strengths?

One of the Integrate network’s greatest strengths is its anchoring in politics. After all, the network emerged from a political initiative (Prague Declaration). This fact should make it easier to attract attention at the political level.

What are your main objectives for your Chairmanship in 2024?

There are many approaches to integrative nature conservation in the forest. But at end of the day, it’s people who do it. It therefore seems useful to me to highlight the many initiatives that exist in this direction and to learn from them. The network of over 200 Marteloscopes should be expanded and communicated to practitioners as well as the interested public. Marteloscopes are a very valuable tool for raising awareness. In addition, there are also new concepts to inspire forest owners for biodiversity in the forest and to promote the integration of nature conservation in managed forest to the forest base. A close dialogue with Pro Silva is planned in order to promote practical implementation. At the political level, Forest Europe and other legislative initiatives on EU and national level are ongoing. We need to keep a close eye on developments and ensure to contribute the Networks’ expertise where appropriate.

What do you expect the Integrate Network to address and provide in the coming years?

I hope that it will have a broader impact on forest management practice.

More about the Integrate Network: https://integratenetwork.org/

Photo credit: Georg Frank

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