Simon Poljanšek, you are the new Slovenian national focal point for the European Network INTEGRATE. Would you please introduce yourself?
Growing up on a small farm, surrounded by forest and animals, it was easy for me to connect with nature and outdoor activities, road cycling, photography, animals, and becoming a family man. An obvious choice was to study at the University of Ljubljana Biotechnical Faculty, Department for Forestry and Renewable Forest Resources. I successfully finished my studies there with a rewarded diploma thesis on the analysis of the amount and structure of deadwood in Slovenian forests. My education continued with a doctoral thesis on dendrochronological investigation of Black pine (Pinus nigra Arnold) in the Balkan Peninsula, which I conducted at the Slovenian Forestry Institute. I used different tree-ring parameters (widths, density and stable isotopes) to investigate the influence of climate (temperature, sunshine, precipitation, river hydrology) or other extreme events (forest fires) on trees, growing in various environments from mountainous sites to urban surroundings.
What are you currently working on in the Slovenian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food?
The knowledge obtained on this path I described above is now used for monitoring contents and procedures of forest management plans, and assessing forest resources. Furthermore, I use my scientific experience to review targeted research projects, and to collaborate with my team in the development of the “LULUCF” national forestry accounting plan. Finally, a crucial part of my work is to cooperate in different governmental and other institutional associations with the aim of developing system solutions for the sustainable development of forests ecosystems, resilience and biodiversity, alongside with environmental, production and social forests functions.
More than 50% of Slovenia’s national territory is covered by forests. Your forests are a significant ecological resource, but also play an important role for nature conservation in Slovenia. How do you deal with these different demands?
Slovenia established a so-called “co-natural forest management system” in which sustainability is addressed by natural regeneration and imitation of the natural cycle in forests. Our forest management system is as well embracing a multipurpose forestry approach in which forests do not only provide material assets, but also environmental and social benefits. It is important to note that we have 355 (!) Natura 2000 sites in Slovenia, encompassing 7.684 km2, which covers approximately 37 percent of the country. One quarter of the Natura 2000 forest area falls within the Triglav National Park, regional and landscape parks, nature reserves or natural monuments. The rest are multipurpose and multifunctional managed forests. We administer them all with forest management plans, also representing management plans for Natura 2000 sites, including integrated nature conservation measures. A balance between different expectations of several parties, e.g. forest owners and NGOs, is established through the participative decision making procedure, supervised by the Slovenia Forest Service. As part of this process, participants denote areas of possible conflicts between production, ecological and social functions and define guidance for their harmonization. These plans are reviewed by the Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation, the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, and the Slovenian Water Agency. When adjusted, we – the Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry and Food – make the forest management plans publicly available for a period of 14 days, for the forest owners and other interested parties to see the participation results. In case of no further objections, the final plans are announced with Rules on Forest Management Plan, made available online by the Slovenia Forest Service and put into practice. We can conclude: forest owners in Slovenia manage their property based on the National Forest Programme, Forest Law and connected regulations, forest management and silviculture plans.
Do you offer payments for ecosystem services?
When measures for strengthening ecological functions, prescribed in the plans and defined by the regulations, limit forest owners from benefiting of natural resources, then compensations, direct payments or cross-compliances are available. This is also the case when owners execute prescribed additional forests protection measures.
What are the difficulties you are facing?
In recent years, forest owners, forestry inspection and forest service pointed out the conflicts with forest visitors, especially when it comes to excessive mushroom picking and illegal driving in forest area. Adjusted action between ministry, inspection and service under the slogan “Carefully with forest” used different communication tools to promote well behaving in forest space as well as admiring and respecting the property, which our forest is. Clearly, protection of forest functions is one of our key tasks, also due to the intensified different threats in recent years. Since 2014, Slovenian forests were damaged by a great ice storm, two windrows and long-lasting bark beetle outbreak. In 2014, an ice storm disturbed half of Slovenians’ forests, with a total volume of 9.3 mio m3 damaged trees. Despite swift actions taken to preserve timber value and to prevent bark beetle attacks, improvements are still possible, especially in the field of connecting small forest owners and improving their ability for successful management. This way, our hopes as the ministry are high to increase annual allowable cut in the private forests. Challenging for us are also situations, when catastrophic events happen in certain times of the year or in areas of restricted cut, for example in the period of nesting, bear giving birth to cubs or red deer coupling. Furthermore, it is difficult to find the right balance between the forest’s production function and its wildlife population: for example, roe deer and red deer grazing on buds of deciduous tree species, causing problems with regeneration. Forests are also vulnerable to invasive species, endangering native flora and fauna, as well as to weather patterns change. In the near future, we can expect species shifts, e.g. further reduction of Norway spruce’s share in its marginal areas, in spite of forest owner’s and wood industry’s desire to preserve its share. Worth of mentioning is finally the pressure on forests due to expanding urban and farmland areas. All these issues I have mentioned represent challenges for current and future forest management.
What are Slovenia’s current activities in the field of Integrated Forest Management?
Our experience shows: mutual collaboration between first of all our ministries at the decision-making policy level; Slovenia Forest Service, forest owners and their associations and enterprises at second; and finally the Biotechnical Faculty, Department for Forestry and Renewable Forest Resources together with the Slovenian Forestry Institute on a research and academic level, results in many good practices of bridging policy, research and practice. Just to name some: In 2017, we had the annual scientific consultation Forestry Study Days with the topic of Managing forest ecosystems in Slovenia which took place for the 34th time in a row. Topic-wise, the study days are very up to date: In 2016, they discussed Invasive species and sustainable use of forest resources, and in 2015 Forest legislations. Another annual event is the Forest Week, connecting forestry institutions and opening their assignments to broader society. In 2018, its slogan was Forest is culture, in 2017 Knowledge for forest and in 2016 Forests for tomorrow – let’s preserve them.
We also established cooperation between the named institutions within research projects, co-financed by the Slovenian Research Agency. These projects focus on inter-institutional collaboration to solve specific problems, for example: preparing guidelines for landscape features, important for biodiversity conservation in Slovenia; mastering risk with Norway spruce in Slovenian forests, or; assessing the utilization of productive capacity of forest sites. Last, but not least, our Rural Development Programme supports integrative forest management at its best. Prepared with a joint effort of the ministry, research institutions and forest service, it fosters a large range of measures to support investments in forestry technologies. Furthermore, it helps forest owners and small enterprises to deal with damage to their forests and aims at improving the resilience and environmental value of forest ecosystems. This way, knowledge transfer and innovation support competitiveness of sustainable forestry, as well as restoring, preserving and enhancing forest ecosystems.
How do you imagine the future of Slovenian forests?
“The best way to predict the future is to create it”, said Abraham Lincoln. Ongoing investigations and knowledge sharing among civil services, ministerial bodies, academics and forest owners are already creating a promising future for Slovenian forests. Bearing in mind the three important aspects of multifunction, participation and free access to our forests for everyone, one could say the future is already here. However, some improvements can still be made in helping further threatened forest dependent species and improving value and use of wood products, forest tending, silviculture measures and realization of annual allowable cut. This could be done by improving owners’ knowledge, motivation and their equipment, and reducing both the diffused structure of forest ownership and the number of forest accidents. A realization of my suggestions would indeed be prosperous for Slovenian forests.