From the Roman Empire to present day: Italy looks back at a long history of cultivating land and making use of forest products. With Enrico Pompei, Director of National and International Forestry Policies of the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies we discussed current targets and challenges of forest management in Italy as well as advantages of collaboration and exchange of experiences between different stakeholders involved in the field of forest decision making from local to European level.
How is the state of Italian forests today – and what are the most important targets of forest management?
Today’s Italian forest landscape is the result of deep territorial and socio-economic transformations that have taken place over centuries, which have obtained areas primarily useful for agricultural and grazing activities, and for the development of urban systems. The centuries-old silvicultural activities have modified the structure, composition, complexity, and diversity of forest ecosystems. They have also supported and accelerated the natural evolution of the treated stands, and in some cases, proposed new ecological balances. Italian forests are the guardians of both an environmental heritage in terms of biological diversity and ecosystems, and an immense cultural heritage for our country and the planet. At the same time, they have been a primary source of renewable resources for centuries, but also vulnerable to the events connected with the current climate crisis. Italy’s forest heritage consists of over 9 million hectares of forests and almost 2 million hectares of other wooded lands (INFC, 2015). Forests also represent part of the national natural capital and, as an asset of significant public interest, they play a strategic role for the development policies of our country (Ref. National Forestry Strategy). In a global socio-economic and environmental context, policies for the protection and conservation of the forest heritage and the development and growth of its productive environmental and socio-cultural chains must increasingly and actively converge and be built on an integrated long-term vision, based on solid and timely knowledge.
What are the challenges you are currently facing?
The climate crisis, the need to decarbonize the economy and support a more sustainable development, the protection of the environment with the commitment to the recovery of degraded ecosystems, and the overall increase in the offer of Ecosystem Services related to forest territories represent the new challenges where the national forest sector can not only make a concrete contribution, but must. These challenges are linked to international commitments and European obligations signed by the Italian Government including climate change mitigation and adaptation, the development of renewable energy, biodiversity conservation, functional and structural recovery of ecosystems, landscape protection, development of the bioeconomy and circular economy, and marketing and transformation of forest products. The new Green Deal of European Commission and the new Biodiversity Strategy of EU (that contains the new European Forest Strategy) require broad governance action. Also considering the biological growth times of forests, we need a strategic and forward-looking vision of sector policies as well as a coordination between environmental protection and socio-economic development policies. The task of management, and therefore the task of the national forestry strategy, is to increase the value of forests and their products and services, which are the driving forces of the development of different production chains of an economic, environmental, and social nature.
You have mentioned the political strategies, but also conflicts of interest when it comes to forest management. Is there a common denominator?
Yes, the common denominator remains Sustainable Forest Management, as an essential tool to balance the interests of society, owners, and operators in the sector. It aims to protect and preserve the functional and structural diversity of forests, curb the process of cultural abandonment, and enhance the roles of the forest and the function of the forest sector and its supply chains in the socio-economic development of the country.
How do you integrate nature conservation strategies into sustainable forest management in Italy? Is there a national concept, or do the different regions develop their own strategies adapted to local requirements like request for ecosystem services, tree species composition, or the challenge of forest disturbances?
In Italy, the public consultation phase for the implementation of the National Forestry Strategy (NFS) for the forestry sector and its supply chains has just ended. The NFS is cited in Article 6, paragraph 1, of Legislative Decree no. 34 of 3 April, 2018. The strategy identifies three general objectives referring to the three Guiding Principles of the EU Forestry Strategy. “The national objectives represent an implementation at national scale of the European priorities and commitments defined at international level which form the strategic framework to support the associated national and regional administrations. The common denominator remains Sustainable Forest Management, as it is an essential tool for balancing the interests of society and the responsibilities of owners and operators in the sector. The NFS recognises the need to build a systematic link between the institutional components of the country, starting with dialogue and cooperation between central institutions and regional administrations, to ensure maximum synergy in the sharing of objectives and responsibilities. Cooperation between sector policies must actively involve social and economic organisations, as well as the joint involvement in decision-making processes between representatives of the sector’s operators, as well as local communities and civil society organisations with an interest in the forestry sector.
How do you structure the collaboration between policy and practice?
The Strategy is composed of two main sections: a general part that defines the context and objectives, and an applicative part where operational actions are defined. These operational Actions have a wide application on a national scale and are implemented through the Regional Forestry Programmes and Specific Actions that concern some issues of strategic importance, but also of specific territorial importance. This includes the management of extreme climatic events, the fight against forest fires, monumental trees and old forests, etc. The Actions are related to the Actions Detailed Sheets in which specific sub-actions associated to a preliminary selection of specific interventions (Forests and forest chains, Conservation status of mature forest ecosystems and Red List, Perceived intervention priorities for the Italian forest sector, United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2023, Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 – SDGs of forest interest) are explained.
In their implementation, the Actions will have to be linked to the pursuit of concrete results with specific interventions and contextualised to the institutional, territorial, ecological, socio-economic and landscape needs of the specific local realities and priorities, as well as to the needs of hydrogeological risk prevention, and mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
What in your opinion is the benefit of Italy being a member of the Integrate Network – and what do you expect the network to provide in the upcoming years?
The most important benefit is the possibility to share experiences concerned with sustainable forest management implementation from a practical, political, and scientific point of view. Taking part in the Integrate Network allows us to learn and adopt successful best practices, which are already implemented in other European countries, for improving the management of our forests. Similarly, we can introduce best practices and innovative actions, as well as share negative experiences which could be helpful for colleagues in other contexts.
The participatory approach of the network stimulates our staff to develop new ideas concerned with the Integrate approach and thus allows us to improve the efficiency of forests to deliver ecosystem services.
Encouraging collaboration through European projects as LIFE or Horizon programs as well as through the European rural program, is expected to represent a roadmap that increases the benefits provided by the network. The involvement of stakeholders with multidisciplinary backgrounds could expand the vision and enhance both European forests’ conservation and production. In my opinion, the experience carried out with the marteloscope sites is unique and represents one of the best ways to improve the awareness of sustainable forest management among forest stakeholders – from forest practitioners, researchers, students, hunters, to mushroom/truffle pickers and the general public. The Integrate Network should be maintained and continue to increase encouragement to enrich the marteloscope network by promoting workshops and field activities.
Featured photo of Monti del Matese (Roccamandolfi – IS). Taken by Giovanni Santopuoli.