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Author: Laura Nikinmaa

Networks of trust – the foundation for wildfire management

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.

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When school becomes holiday – Exploring forest resilience from all the angles

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.

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Springtime in flames

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.

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New winds in dealing with forest disturbances

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.

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Fire management in Viking style – looking for solutions together

The North is getting hot! Last year with its uncommonly warm and dry spring and summer caused lot of problems to the forest and agricultural sector in the Nordic countries. In addition, Sweden suffered from extensive wildfires. Due to climate change, summers like 2018 might become the new normal. To address this, the Nordic Council of Ministers launched a project group  that is a collaboration between Nordic Agri Research (NKJ) and Nordic Forest Research (SNS). SNS held a workshop “Nordic forestry in times of extreme weather” in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the 1st of March to discuss amongst the participants from the ministries and fire service, how Nordic collaboration could be strengthened to face the new challenges. Laura Nikinmaa from the European Forest Institute’s Resilience Programme was invited to be a guest speaker together with Marc Castellnou from the Pau Costa Foundation and Martin Vendelbo from the Danish Emergency Management Agency.

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Uncovering the hidden potential – how European forests can be adapted to climate change

The European forest sector phases numerous demands and challenges, and the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change might just be the biggest one of them. The issue is well acknowledged in high-level speeches but not much is known about what happens at the regional or local scale. What are the specific issues, how they are dealt with and by whom? To breach this gap, the agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI) established a Focus Group in spring 2017. 20 experts from different European countries with practical experience and technical knowledge were selected to reflect on the question “Which new management practices and tools can improve the climate mitigation and adaptation potential of EU forests?” The group consisted of farmers, foresters, land- owners, researchers and advisors. During 2018, the Focus Group produced 10 mini-papers that cover the important aspects of forest practices and climate change. The final report of their work was coordinated by Dr. Marcus Lindner  from the European Forest Institute (EFI) and published on the 8th of January 2019. You can read the report here.

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Ecoclimate teleconnections: the globalization of plants

You thought that humans were the only species that can affect areas far away from where they live? Think again. The forests in India might be the culprits of the rainy days you are having in Germany now.
Recent research has shown that forests and vegetation in general can control the weather across great distances, making the forests and climate even more interconnected than previously thought according to an article published in Quantamagazine. Plants, especially trees, are fascinating organisms: they pump up water from the soil to the atmosphere and simultaneously grab carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into themselves and soils. The features that make this transportation possible are tiny pores on the leaves’ surface, called the stomata. One leaf can have more than one million stomata. So in a large forest the number of stomata is stratospheric and the amount of water they pump can be trillions of liters!
The growing group of researchers studying the interactions between vegetation and climate can now estimate how a forest loss or gain in a certain area can sway the weather patterns in others. One of these scientists is Professor Abigail Swann, the head of the Ecoclimate Lab in the University of Washington. In her recent studies, she has found the teleconnection: the plant communities around the globe are connected by the atmospheric mechanics. Essentially, the effect is similar to that of El Niño, where the warm surface water in the East Pacific Ocean causes heavy rains in South America and Africa as well as drought in Southeast Asia and Australia.

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Wuthering heights – how to manage storms in forests?

by Andreas Schuck, Alexander Held, Christoph Hartebrodt, Laura Nikinmaa, and Jakob Hörl
When storms are expected to become more frequent and violent, how can we ensure a flourishing future for our forests and the people who depend on them? This was one of the main questions that the SURE project workshop “Res2Storm – pan-European Workshop on Wind, Storms, and Forests” aimed at answering. The objective was to map operational tools and processes for coping with storm events along the crisis management cycle. Emphasis was given to the phases ‘recovery’, ‘prevention/mitigation’ and ‘preparedness’, not neglecting adequate ‘response’. The workshop was hosted by Christoph Hartebrodt and his team from the Forest Research Institute of Baden-Württemberg (FVA) in Freiburg, Germany, on the 11-12th of October 2018. It was the first in a series of thematic workshops within the SURE project dealing with forest risks. It brought together 35 participants from 13 European countries with backgrounds in science, policy and practice.

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How can we measure forest resilience? Report from a workshop in Bonn

What does resilience mean to you? Is it the ability to endure stress and still be able to perform? Or the capacity to recover after a catastrophe? Either answer could be right, as the definition of resilience is under a continuous debate. However, as current forest policies advocate building resilience with forest management, they create a point of frustration for forest managers: how do you implement something that you are not exactly sure of what it means in the first place? We tackled this problem with a workshop “Operationalizing Forest Resilience”, that was organised on the 6th and 7th of September 2018 in Bonn. We invited scientists from Europe and the USA to discuss how we can help forest managers to implement resilience in practice. And it is not as easy as you would think.

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