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Towards improved disturbance risk management in European forests: serving the needs and building on positive experiences of different countries

Day 2 of the SURE conference

Where are shortcomings in effective disturbance risk management in different European Countries? How can we move from often short-term decisions to long-term oriented disturbance mitigation and resource use in policy-making and practice to create a more resilient forest sector? How can the various actors involved in implementing measures for prevention and preparedness be better supported in view of future disturbance events? How do both policy makers and practitioners assess the importance of cross-sectoral and cross-country knowledge exchange and learning?

We discussed these questions with more than 40 policy makers and some practitioners from 17 countries on the 27th of August as part of the second day of the virtual conference of the SURE project. A Policy Brief distributed beforehand, provided a synthesis on natural disturbance risk management based on science, practice and policy perspectives. The key messages from the first day of the conference were also an inspiration for the discussion: Alex Giurca presented a graphic reporting capturing the issues discussed on day 1. Christoph Hartebrodt, based on his knowledge on the European Forest Risk Facility initiative, provided another perspective on the topics covered. After presenting the activities and research done during three years of SURE, an interactive session with policy perspectives on risk management paradigms gathered views from Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Austria, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic. 

“Building a culture of forest resilience”

In this tour across European countries, several statements highlighted the importance of sharing knowledge and communication. Germany mentioned the need of improvement in the communication between federal states and government. Slovenia is optimizing knowledge exchange between forest owners through an online portal. The freshly released was introduced by Switzerland as a tool giving open access to information on future tree species selection. Cross-border communication and networking was mentioned by Ireland as important, enabling “to accelerate the implementation of fire-guidance through the involvement with the network and the exchange with southern countries”. Slovenia and United Kingdom supported this idea respectively appreciating international exchange of experts and proposing a European exercise where nations test their risk systems. In addition, Turkey stressed the need of phytosanitary staff training to prevent the arrival of invasive species. 

“Risk Prevention and Preparedness should be the priorities”

In an interactive game, preparedness and prevention were the most voted measures that policy makers and practitioner prioritized. We could see how this is being included in countries´ agendas, despite the different challenges and solutions faced. Germany mentioned the lack of resources for the forest owners that “cannot be compensated by governmental money in the short term”. The lack of resources in the forest sector was also mentioned by Slovenia who now focuses on easing permits provisions, road construction for wood transportation, and provides private forest owners with tree saplings for free. Investments on tree nursery and research for silviculture, biodiversity, and genetics are other actions on the agenda of both Slovenia and Austria. In particular, on the issue of fires, Austria, Switzerland and Italy remarked on the importance of the development of strategic fuel management plans and the integration of agroforestry and silvopastoral (farming method that includes the use of timber, livestock, and forage together in the same section of land) practices to reduce fire risk.   

The Panel discussion

In the second session of the day, panelists from ministries, state agencies and European and international organization continued the discussion. Their presentations aimed at identifying shortcomings in forest disturbance management, measures for prevention and preparedness, and long-term solutions that create a more resilient forest sector in different regions and institutional settings. 

Gerben Janse, Swedish Forest Agency, stressed challenges of slow disturbance identification through satellite imagery, which then delay the response. Sweden is also using drones and helicopters especially for fires and insect monitoring. Furthermore, he explained that forest owners should be ready to take long term investments to manage multi-risks, and he pointed out the benefits of a cooperative approach for policy makers.

The idea of exchange and connection at all levels was supported by Annemarie Bastrup-Birk, European Environment Agency. Moreover, she gave reference to and promoted the service of “custodia forestale” implemented in Trentino, where a trained person watches and monitors the forest, in a way that early warning system do not rely only on satellite imageries.

In relation to forest monitoring, Tomáš Krejzar, Czech Department of Forest Policy and Economics, also acknowledged the need of up to date information to have a good basis for decision making. He also presented the quick response mechanism initiated in his country, introducing new subsidies to forest owners for immediate and long-term response. 

Peter Moore, FAO. presented the fire management strategies oriented to “move from response management to a cyclical path to risk reduction”. He brought the example of developing countries where people are being stimulated to use and analyse existing datasets and to be connected through agribusiness and industries. 

José Manuel Rodrigues, ICNF Portugal, shared the forest plant health perspective and GESFITO platform. It aims at reinforcing collaboration and communication, and launching an early system to provide good decision making and response to plant health issues in Portugal.

Following these initial statements, the panel discussion focused first on the trade-off between the use of satellite images and using local expertise such as from forest custodians. Secondly, it focused on the potential of mobilizing equipment and people across European countries to support the response to large scale disturbances and to enhance the preparedness to cope with severe regional impacts. Regarding this second point, the importance in starting a cooperation between countries with similar conditions and systems was stressed. However, it is crucial to understand the disturbance impacts and possible interactions with secondary risks to make sure that the arrival of additional support does not make the process overly complex. The Vaia storm was brought as an example where more salvaged wood could have been exported if there were transportation infrastructures available.

The Panel discussion on day 2 was moderated by Elisabeth Pötzelsberger (EFI) with Annemarie Bastrup-Birk (EEA), Gerben Janse (Swedish Forest Agency), Peter Moore (FAO), Tomáš Krejzar (Czech Dep. of Forest Policy and Economics), and José Manuel Gomes Rodrigues (Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas-Portugal) as panelists

The conference was concluded by a statement of the donor of the project, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL): Thomas Haussmann announced that the topic discussed in this conference will be part of the Council conclusion in Brussels to update the EU forest strategy. Moreover, at the next Ministerial conference of Forest Europe, a resolution on forest adaptation to climate change will be signed to develop a knowledge exchange platform that implements some of the activities discussed during the two days of the SURE final conference.


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