Record breaking temperatures, minimal rainfall, drying rivers and burning forests. The news from this summer show how acutely the warming climate is affecting our environment and lives. To me, the damages to forests due to fires, drought and insect outbreaks are particularly worrisome as we as a society are counting on forests to sequester our carbon emissions, to replace the fossil fuel products and to foster biodiversity that is rapidly declining. This concern on the capacity of forests to cope with increased disturbances started years ago and led me to pursue a PhD on forest resilience and how it could be improved with forest management. Now it is time to summarise my work from the last four years.
Author: Laura Nikinmaa
In recent weeks, the RESONATE project’s Twitter has explored different definitions for forest resilience. Some of them sounded rather similar, some very different and all of them might have left the reader with more questions: “But what does this mean in practice?”. Armed with coffee and cookies, I’ll try to enlighten the mysterious and sometimes headache-inducing world of resilience.
To make some sense of the different definitions, it is good to remember that they are rarely completely new and innovative but are based on some previous definitions from which they have been further developed. That is why some of them sound very similar but with some notable differences.
Are you a forest owner or manager, policy maker or entrepreneur working on forest related topics, are you a conservation activist or a citizen interested in wood-based products?
You might know a forest which suffered from fire or bark-beetle damages recently. You might have been struggling with different – and sometimes conflicting – demands to the forest, no matter if it’s your forest or you are managing it. Or did you have trouble buying wood for e.g. a garden fence or your roof yet?
If this all doesn’t apply to you, you might still be concerned about all the recent news in the media about damages to our forests in Europe. To address these challenges, the new H2020 project RESONATE aims to generate the needed knowledge and practical guidance for making European forests, the services they provide, and related economic activities more resilient to future climate change and disturbances.
How groundwater access impacts the resilience of oaks to drought
Fresh water is essential to all living creatures and humans have become particularly well-versed in using it for both business and pleasure. We use it grow our food, to run our industries and even to flush our toilets in many countries. Much of the fresh water used in the world comes from the groundwater, and the extraction of groundwater is likely to increase more in the future, partly due to droughts. However, a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Freiburg and published in Scientific Reports shows that extracting the groundwater to water our gardens can cause serious problems to forests growing on the areas from where the water is taken.
When asked what kind of trees I like, the answer always is old. No matter the species, there is something humbling and comforting about the old giants that puts my mind at ease. And I’m not the only one: big, ancient trees are central in many mythologies, and some individuals are famous and loved by many, for example General Sherman in the USA and Major Oak in the UK. But we might not be able to enjoy their majesty much longer, according to a recent study.
As the Resilience Programme of the European Forest Institute, we are looking for evidence-based ways to improve resilience in the European forests. However, a brief discussion in the office revealed that even among our staff there are almost as many interpretations of resilience as there are staff-members. We needed to have a clearer understanding on what resilience means in the context of forestry.
Written by Laura Nikinmaa & Maria Schlossmacher
Imagine having a team of chefs cooking Eggs Benedict. One of them has only ever made omelets; the other one has all the ingredients but no recipe. The third one knows how to do it, but they have been forbidden to cook anything else than scrambled eggs by the owner of the restaurant. On top of everything, they are not talking to one another because they are all competing for promotion. The outcome? You guessed it, anything but Eggs Benedict, the restaurant owner is enraged, and none of the chefs gets a promotion.
While the restaurant world is known to be fiery, the actual world of wildfires is straight up in flames. We have seen abnormally active fire season in 2019 in many countries. Poland had almost three times more fires compared to the 10-year average this year, Germany more than five times more, and France more than seven times more (EFFIS). The cherry on top was the United Kingdom, which had eight times more fires in 2019 than in the 10-year average. It was therefore fitting that the SURE project workshop (“pro-active fire management”) was organized back to back with the England and Wales Wildfire Forum’s (EWWF) Wildfire Conference from 20th to 22nd of November in Cardiff, Wales. The EWWF conference had more than 180 participants from 14 different countries, out of which almost 50 stayed to participate in the SURE workshop on the 22nd. The theme of the conference was “Manage the fuel – Reduce the Risk”. The speakers consisted of experts from practice and research, from fire and rescue services to forest administrates, and the topics varied from practical examples to the latest knowledge we have on wildfire behavior.
It’s funny how one starts to miss the things they previously would have been glad to give up. In my case, I realized I have missed sitting in lecture rooms. That is why I was so eager to participate the summer school “Forest Resilience” organized by the SwissForestLab, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) and NFZ.forestnet. The school took place in Davos, Switzerland from 18th to 24th of August. There were 20 students from 10 different countries and diverse backgrounds.
Resilience is a complex, multiscalar and interdisciplinary issue. It touches topics from tree growth to disturbance regimes, from human behaviour to economics and insurances. The summer school had made considerable effort to fit these different perspectives into a packed but mind-grabbing programme. We started with lectures on the social and economic aspects of resilience. As many of us had more natural sciences background, there was a lot of new information to chew on.
and Alexander Held
What had already been predicted in 2018, became true.
Spring is too warm and too dry, again. The year 2019 had a hot start: during the first four months, more areas have been burned than during the entire 2018 across Europe. The Joint Research Centre’s European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) of the EU Science Hub recorded 1233 fires corresponding to a burned area of more than 250 000 ha by the end of April. In comparison, there were 1192 fires burning 181 000 ha during the whole 2018.
For a young professional in the field of forestry, reading the news nowadays is a schizophrenic experience. On one hand, I’m scared to death with the heat waves and drought occurring at odd times of the year, continuously increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, alien species invasions in new areas and massive insect outbreaks in various parts of Europe. On the other hand, it is very exciting and hopeful: climate change awareness is increasing, and actions are being taken, wood product innovations are replacing many fossil-fuel based ones, and biodiversity conservation measures are adopted by many forest managers. Nevertheless, we are facing a serious situation that cannot be fixed with few tricks. With the disturbance frequency and intensity increasing all the time, we need to revise how we manage the risks they are causing to our forests.