Faced with biodiversity loss, climate impacts, and changes in societal demands, forest owners and managers across Europe have started to use integrated forest management to address the trade-offs between multiple uses of forest ecosystems. Integrated forest management is a highly dynamic, multi-functional management approach with as many different strategies for implementation as there are different forest ecosystems in Europe. This flexibility was showcased in the final conference of the oForest project: “How to balance forestry and biodiversity conservation – a view across Europe” organized by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research (WSL) as well as European Forest Institute (EFI) and supported by the Swiss Federal Institute for the Environment (BAFU), the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the Canton of Basel. The conference, held on November 9th-11th, 2020 as an online webinar, was named after the title of the upcoming oForest book publication, which compiles expertise of integrated forest management from over 150 authors.
The first day was attended by more than 350 participants and focused on 15 practice examples of integrated forest management from different countries and forest owners. Before diving into the cases, Daniel Kraus (Bayerische Staatsforsten/BaySF) first gave his reflections on integrated forest management. Daniel highlighted the cultural landscapes of Europe that are the legacy of a long history of management and impact on our ecosystems. He concluded that in order to achieve increased resilience and adaptation in our forest ecosystems we should take into account the following: “reserve what cannot be replaced, retain what we have, and restore what is missing”.
Participants were then introduced to how these conclusions are being used to guide integrated forest management in the webinar’s first session of five presented case studies. The tour began in Switzerland with a presentation by Kurt Bollman (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research/WSL) on species conservation management in the special forest reserve in Amden. The case gave a strong example of how, when well established, multi-functional management can be successful for species conservation. Kurt’s conclusions were echoed by Ulrich Merger (BaySF) who presented more promising evidence of how biodiversity conservation can be achieved despite timber harvesting in the Forest Enterprise of Ebrach, Germany. The conference was then taken to EFI Bonn’s home state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW), where Uwe Schölmerich (Wald und Holz NRW) gave a presentation of managing nature conservation and recreation in urban areas at the Forest Enterprise Rhine-Sieg Erft. Although Uwe pointed out potential conflicts, his presentation highlighted how how integrated forest management can be achieved even in densely populated areas where societal needs towards forests are usually high. Relatedly, we then heard from Patrick Huvenne (Agency for Nature and Forests, Flanders) with his presentation on the Sonian forest in Brussels, where recreation pressure on the forest ecosystem requires new infrastructure to best achieve integrated forest management, and how important it is to continuously communicate these changes with the public. Closing the first five cases, participants were transported to Slovenia with a presentation by Kristina Sever (Slovenian Forest Service) on the Pahernik Forest, in which she vividly illustrated how close-to-nature management techniques can be successful in mimicking natural processes even in a forest managed primarily for timber
Keen to continue the ‘Tour d’Europe’, participants tuned into the second session of case studies which began with a presentation by Laurent Larrieu (French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment/INRAe) on a collectively managed private forest in the Southwest of France which uses integrated strategies such as retention of whole crowns for deadwood accumulation and species sensitive harvesting operations. Similarly, we heard from Eckart Senitza (Gut Poitschach, Austria) on his own 5th generation family forest. By managing this forest, Eckart has come to believe that in order to achieve rapid changes in a slowly developing system, continuous cover forest needs consistent management with the same principles over decades. Participants then travelled to the forests of Bulgaria with a presentation by Momchil Panaytov (University of Sofia) on the experience of a state hunting unit. In this region, state forests are incredibly important for the local people, being used for hunting, mushroom and berry picking, and firewood collection. Momchil explains that relying on the delivery of such forest ecosystem services can become a challenge, as people do not always understand the need for conservation in order to ensure forests resilience. He suggests that a monetary value for ecosystem services might help highlight their importance and contribution to a more sustainable use.
Conference participants were then excited to hear from EFI Bonn’s very own Agata Konczal on the Woziwoda Forest District, Poland. She echoed previous presentations, highlighting the importance of educational and social functions of forests in addition to conservation and wood production. The forest has a very special infrastructure to support exactly these functions, and even includes a focus in forest tree beekeeping where visitors can learn about the importance of insects for forest ecosystems. Approaching the end of the second session, participants were momentarily taken back to Germany and its Black Forest by Stefanie Gärtner, (Black Forest National Park) with a presentation on managing conflicting goals in the Black Forest National Park. Stefanie explained how the park embedded integrated forest management measures within a zoning concept. The concept includes a core zone of strict protection, a transition zone, and a management zone which can be used for management approaches that support biodiversity conservation. Finally, the second session closed with a trip to a very different landscape with Lena Gustafsson (SLU Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences). She presented the Ecoparcs concept applied in Sweden, a new conservation instrument which provides a very unusual landscape approach to integrated forest management.
The next and final session provided no shortage of new and exciting insights into integrated forest management, starting with a presentation by Tom Houlihan (Agriculture and Food Development Authority/Teagasc, Ireland) about Ireland’s native woodland resource. Tom pointed to the importance of native woodlands in the country, and recommended expanding them to complement other forest types and subsequently provide the full range of services required by society. He underlined this by presenting the efforts of a small farm owner re-establishing native woodlands on his property. Moving again to a very different landscape, Sandra Alcobia (University of Lisbon) introduced an important case of integrated forest management in the Mediterranean, with some forward thinking that ‘sustainable forest management results from the right balance between strengths and weaknesses’. Wrapping up the third session and a day of unique and insightful presentations, participants heard from Stanislav Kucbel (University of Zvolen) on an interesting model for the management of broad-leaf dominated forests in Slovakia which utilises close to nature silviculture and provides a natural laboratory for students. Finally, attendees of the webinar heard from Ellinor Dobie on their forests at Abbey St Bathans in a rural area of Scotland. Her presentation provided evidence of the potential for running small and medium scale sawmills, as they are doing. Her example showed how two key factors – a small-medium scale sawmill and a secure future – can positively impact forest management, while ensuring social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Andreas Schuck from EFI then noted in his concluding words that “This first day of the oForest webinar gave us all an exciting and comprehensive insight to the incredible diversity of approaches to apply integrated forest management across Europe and how they, despite many challenges, can be used to balance the trade-offs between forestry and biodiversity conservation goals. This aim is also very much at the heart of the European Network Integrate, a voluntary network of member organisations from 19 European countries currently chaired by Switzerland”. The great relevance and importance of the subject was mirrored by the large number of participants who attended the webinar to learn more about such promising approaches, and in between presentations provided no shortage of questions for the presenters. It became clear that if the attendees were not already looking forward to the upcoming book ‘How to balance forestry and biodiversity conservation – a view across Europe’, after the webinar they definitely are eager to also read more about the many other forest enterprise case studies that were not presented during the day. But until then, participants looked forward to the second day of the conference when they would be hearing interventions by research policy and practice on balancing forestry and biodiversity conservation, followed by an introduction to findings of the book publication presented by the main book editor Frank Krumm (WSL). Finally, the second day was expected to be complemented with a high-level panel discussion including a questions and answer session, moderated by Swiss Television moderator Mona Vetsch.
Featured image by Peter Brang (WSL)