Costa Rica: First Central American satellite to monitor forest growth

The Central American Association for Aeronautics and Space (ACAE) and the Costa Rican Institute of Technology (TEC) successfully launched the first CubeSat technology satellite to daily monitor carbon fixation, biomass and environmental variables in a beechwood tree plantation in the northern region of Costa Rica.

Daily tree growth is measured with electronic dendrometers. This information is synchronized with a data aggregator that stores the information to be transmitted to the satellite. This includes weather, solar radiation and soil moisture conditions. This then reaches the ground station, mission control, and a data visualization center, which processes the scientific data to make it available to the public.

Proyecto Irazú was supported through sponsoring companies, government contributions and donations received through Kickstarter. TEC students worked hand in hand with scientists from NASA, the Kyushu Institute of TechnologyDelft University of Technology and Ad Astra Rocket.

Read the full article here.

Can forests be legal entities?

It seems obvious to most of us that specific species, animals, and plants, are protected by special laws and regulations. However, it is getting less natural when we talk about rivers, forests or trees as legal entities. Or maybe rather opposite?

The Guardian has recently published an article “It’s only natural: the push to give rivers, mountains, and forests legal rights” where author Jane Gleeson-White describes a recent tendency in the Western environmental legal system. “This new approach to environmental law was introduced in the US by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, whose first success came in 2006”, writes Gleeson-White. The discussion about legal rights for the environment and its elements, during last ten years, has exceeded debates within environmental philosophy and anthropology and happened to be a focal point of many social movements.

FSC und Greenpeace sind sich nicht grün

Ich finde, Greenpeace International und der Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) führen einen interessanten Dialog. Warum, werde ich im Folgenden ausführen:

Am 28.3.2018 hat Greenpeace-International seine Mitgliedschaft beim FSC-International auslaufen lassen, wie die Naturschutzorganisation mitteilte. Begründet wurde dieser Schritt mit der sehr ungleichen Umsetzung der FSC-Zertifizierung von Land zu Land und mit dem Versagen der FSC-Zertifizierung beim Schutz der Wälder. Insbesondere in Hoch-Risiko-Ländern leiste der FSC hier nicht genug, so Greenpeace. Die Naturschutzorganisation meint damit Länder, in denen Demokratie und Zivilgesellschaft schwach sind und in denen ein hohes Maß an Korruption herrscht. Greenpeace empfiehlt dennoch weiterhin die FSC-Zertifizierung, solange es sich um “FSC 100%” handelt – und nicht um “FSC-Mix” oder “FSC controlled wood” – und sich die zertifizierten Wälder nicht in Hochrisiko-Regionen befinden. PEFC und andere Zertifikate unterstützt Greenpeace nach wie vor nicht.

Turbulent times ahead – and an arc called European Forest Risk Facility?

Do you think that the weather during the last ten years or so has been wilder than during the good old days? Well, it is not just you! A study from European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) shows that extreme weather events have become more frequent over the last 36 years. The increase in frequency can especially be seen in floods and other hydrological events, but also in storms and extreme temperatures, drought and forest fires. It is likely that we are just getting the appetizers and the main course of the more turbulent weather is yet to be served.

The increase in the frequency of the extreme weather events causes more threats to forests. Events that used to occur once in a hundred years might now happen once in a quarter century. Disturbances are also moving to new areas, as seen in the winter fires in Norway in 2014 or wind damages in Catalonian forests the same year. Local knowledge on how to deal with these events might be lacking, which can lead to high economic and sometimes even human losses.

What can be done then to mitigate these changes? In the European Forest Institute, we believe that exchanging the best available information and mutual learning between practice and science across borders is the most efficient way to adapt and deal with the extreme weather. Connecting expert knowledge and the ones in need of it is important in all the faces of crisis management: prevention, preparation, response and recovery.  The European Forest Risk Facility offers exactly that: bringing together experts from science and practice, exchanging knowledge and inspiring to learn new ways to manage forests in the face of more extreme weather. This also involves discussing and thus avoiding to repeat the failures that other have made before. If that happens, a failure can still become a “fantastic failure” to learn from – and the European Forest Risk Facility will provide a platform for that.

How forests can help to build sustainable cities and make them climate-smart

Happy International Day of Forests – and also happy 25th anniversary to European Forest Institute! Check out our new video telling the story how forests can help to build sustainable cities and make them climate-smart.

“A complex universe of meanings” – anthropological perspectives on the forest

The forest is much more than what is visible on the surface. Thinking about the resilience of future forests one has to remember that for contemporary societies a forest is ‘a complex universe of meanings’. The role of woodlands expands beyond their environmental functions and touches such crucial issues like identity. Trees, forests and green spaces contribute to a sense of belonging, create bounds with place and develop feelings of attachment to a space. The history of forests is always entangled with a history of people who live upon them: foresters, local residents, visitors from cities, ‘ordinary people’. In many countries forests play a significant role in the national culture. There is a conviction about the joint spirit and history manifested in trees and national nature cared for by previous generations. It is believed that the past of a society can be traced in the textures of the land. As a result, trees are not just supposed to grow, but very often they should teach us how and what to remember.

My essay “Trees that must remember” tells a story of the relation between the memory and trees on the example of Polish forests. From my anthropological point of view I am demonstrating how in the contemporary society cultivating nature can at the same time become managing a memory. Based on examples from local forests my essay describes how the forest itself is turned into the synonym for the fatherland and national heritage. In present-day states, natural spaces, including forests, are places where the national myth is played out.

Urban forestry in Beijing China – report and recommendations

End of January, I (the urban forestry consultant at EFI’s Resilience Programme) was invited by the Beijing Forestry and Parks Department of International Cooperation for a study visit and a training on urban forestry.  China is one of the leading countries when it comes to afforestation: in 2018 alone, about 6.6 million hectare new forests (or the size or Ireland) will be planted. The new forests are not only situated in the rural areas, but also in and near urban agglomerations. In the last Beijing province (area: 16.000 km², inhabitants: 22 million) for example, about 67.000 ha additional forest has been planted over five years, mainly for landscape and aesthetical reasons, but also for recreation purposes. In the next five years, they are aiming for an additional similar area.

Site visits

The study tour started in one of the mayor urban redevelopment projects that Beijing has seen: the 2008 Olympic Quarter. The Olympic Park (680 ha) has been built on former built-up area and farmland, and is situated at the central North-South axis through Beijing which connects the Olympic Park with the central Tiananmen Square. The park includes an artificial lake where soil was reused for building an artificial hill. The composition of the park follows the traditional Chinese design of building with the back to the hills and the front to the water.

Deer management for resilient future forests

Across the forest sector in Europe there is broad consensus that resilient forests should regenerate naturally with multiple and different (and site specific) tree species. The more diversity in the regeneration, the better. With a forest use that follows natural processes. By these means, ecological and economic risks are reduced.

Across the forest sector in Europe there is also broad consensus that unbalanced deer densities have a negative effect on tree species composition through selective browsing, bark stripping and fraying.

However, there exists a conflict of interest in different European countries since many years: Should high deer densities for easier hunting be preferred – or should lower deer densities for forest development be favoured? A new dimension is added to this discussion when focusing on biodiversity. Biodiversity of forest systems is seen as an insurance and pre-requisite for resilience with regards to expected climate change. Considering that new dimension, the discussion exceeds the level of forest owner interests vs. hunting interests, it becomes a complex topic for society.

Creating a sustainable and inclusive forest-based bioeconomy in Europe

New EFI study assesses the scientific evidence

by Rach Colling

The bioeconomy has mobilised significant investments in technology, research and innovation. New and innovative bio-products and related services have emerged, and related niche markets show dynamic growth. The future of the bioeconomy, however, raises questions relating to its development potential, but also its sustainability.

The science-based study Towards a sustainable European forest-based bioeconomy – assessment and the way forward provides a synthesis of existing knowledge for policymakers on the importance of forests and the forest-based sector in contributing to the future European bioeconomy. It assesses the economic, social and environmental sustainability of a forest-based bioeconomy, and looks at issues that may affect its development.

No fire without smoke – forest fires deteriorate air quality

Fire is not only a threat to forests and livelihoods in the rural areas. As the forest fire season takes on entirely new dimensions by getting longer and more intense, fire – and smoke related health hazards increase, warned an international study published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and reported by PhysOrg.

Burning vegetation releases small particulates, that are dangerous even in small quantities. According to the study, in countries with effective measures to reduce air pollution, wildfire emissions are not causing the average annual levels of small particles to surpass the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended thresholds. However, emissions from fires do increase air pollution severely, which in turn can have grave consequences for human health. According to WHO,  the range of health effects of the small particulates is broad, but are predominantly to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. In principle, the longer the exposure to small particulates is, the more severe the impact on health is.

Tragically, it is estimated that more than 700 000 hectares of land have burned in 2017 alone. The data from European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) points out that the majority of fires were caused by human activities. Additionally dry conditions paved the way for small fires to turn into uncontrollable wildfires. Both conditions, on the bright side, indicate that there is potential for fire prevention.

Currently, air quality policies do not include wildfires and the emissions they cause. Additionally, up until this point there is no widely approved way to manage wildfires. In the light of the late megafires, there is an urgent need to collaborate on the international level to find the best approach to manage and prevent wildfires. For the sake of our forests and our health.

Read the entire news article here.