International climate action and therefore climate negotiations are not only about fossil fuels. Forest conservation or forestations became strategies that are (sometimes more and sometimes less) acknowledged around the globe and strategies that are here to stay. The Paris Agreement promotes forest management as a pathway towards halting climate change through the reduction of CO2 emissions. At the end of the climate negotiations, more than 50 countries have pledged to protect existing forests and add tree cover in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, things might not be that simple.
Science writer and reporter Gabriel Popkin recently released an article in NATURE with the provocative title “How much can forests fight climate change?”. In his text, he examines several studies arguing that trees do not only influence the climate in one direction. Planting trees in order to take more carbon out of the atmosphere is a highly practical way to combat climate change – as long as the trees are planted in the right place. In boreal forests for instance, forests do cool the climate, so reforestation there is one crucial and applied way to meet the climate goals. However, the question how big of a role forest have in fighting climate change is at the same time diverse and complex. Although forests suck carbon dioxide from the air, they also affect the climate in various ways. For example, trees absorb and reflect light differently. The light-green broadleaves reflect more sunlight back to the atmosphere than the dark conifers and therefore have more cooling effect during the summer. All the trees emit chemical compounds that affect the climate in different ways: some cool the climate, some make it warmer. Planting trees in tundra might not be efficient when aiming at cooling the climate.
Planting trees is a longstanding traditional urban planning approach for improving liveability in cities. Dating back from the earliest urban societies such as the Roman Empire, urban planners have applied trees for bringing shade, mitigating temperature, rainfall and wind, and providing food and fodder for animals. Providing urban trees, parks and urban forests is probably one of the earliest applications of what is now termed “nature-based solutions”. Nature-based solutions are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”.
How does the Danish Nature Agency address the trend of rewilding? What are the plans to transition managed forests into forest biodiversity reserves in Denmark – and what are the expected benefits and challenges? We discussed these and other questions with Mogens Krog, Deputy forest officer at the Danish Nature Agency.
Mogens, rewilding is a trend in Denmark now – who are the ones who argue for large connected wild nature areas and no further management? And what is the approach of the Danish Nature Agency?
In Denmark there is a growing interest among nature conservationists and nature conservation NGO’s for large connected wild nature with large herbivores (plant eater). A large area in a Danish context is considered to be 500 ha. Some argue for re-introduction of species which have been part of nature in Denmark in pre-historic time, e.g. wild horses, European bison, moose, and even elephants. Others find domestic animals such as cattle and horses, sufficient to create natural disturbances in nature areas for the benefit of biodiversity.
Denmark is a much regulated landscape with agriculture covering more than 60 % of the land area. Therefore, it may be relative expensive to include private land in rewilding projects Also, in order to avoid major conflicts with agricultural interests, rewilding is likely to be limited to large fences. State owned land is the focus of rewilding interests. In Denmark, state owned land is primarily managed by the Danish Nature Agency under the Ministry of the Environment and Food and covers app. 5% of the total land area in Denmark (210.000 ha).
The European project Spurring INnovations for forest eCosystem sERvices in Europe (SINCERE) is officially launched. SINCERE is a four year project on the variety of ecosystem services provided to people by our forests. Funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and coordinated by the European Forest Institute, the project aims at contributing to a potential foundation for a new European forest related policy.
SINCERE is all about ecosystem services related to forests – with a focus on but not limited to European forests. Ecosystem Services in short are goods and services which benefit society. They are multifaceted and reveal themselves in many ways – from economic over material to health and emotional contributions. You can check out our introductory video for a more detailed explanation.
While you may immediately think of carbon sinks, water cycle and wood biomass, forests are also associated with cultural and spiritual benefits.
Nature is the diversity of living organisms on Earth. It constitutes an essential element for human well-being and for ecosystems services (such as food production, water cycles, soil fertility).
In Europe several studies have demonstrated a steady loss of animal and plant species related to forest, caused for example by intensive land use, invasive alien species introduction, pollution and global warming (EEA short report on Biodiversity, 2008). Maintenance of biodiversity in forests will support its resilience to natural and human pressures. It contributes for example to the mitigation of raising temperatures and to food security.
I have recently been working on several mandatory and voluntary tools supporting nature conservation in forests, and I would like to introduce some of the most important here.
Discussing solutions and searching for more resilience forests
How are different European countries dealing with bark beetle outbreaks and which role do questions like sanitary cutting, monitoring systems, forest ownership, windstorms and expectations towards nature conservation play? What are the challenges regarding climate change? How do the social perception of active and inactive forest management impact forester’s activities in local forests? Which tools should be used to cope with natural disturbances and how we can educate foresters, policy makers, and other relevant stakeholders? Following the invitation of the Polish Ministry of Environment and the Polish State Forests, we discussed these and more issues in the Białowieża Forest during a working seminar of the European Network INTEGRATE from 25-27 June 2018.
“We must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature – or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead”, says Sir Robert Watson – chair of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). This is but one somber, yet realistic conclusion drawn from the most recent reports on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
By the end of March, IPBES approved four landmark science reports on biodiversity and ecosystem services for different regions of the world and published a report on land degradation and restoration worldwide. These reports, comparable to the IPCC reports on climate change, result from three years of work, involving more than 550 leading scientists from over 100 countries to assess the state of worldwide biodiversity and ecosystem services. The main findings draw a gloomy future, however not without mentioning the one or the other ray of hope.
“How are different European countries dealing with Integrated Forest Management and which role do questions like tree composition, forest ownership, and expectations with regards to timber production play? What are the challenges regarding effective funding schemes for Integrated Forest Management, and why do we need payments for ecosystem services? How can we better communicate the advantages of Integrated Forest Management? Which tools can be used to further educate foresters, policy makers, and other relevant stakeholders? Following the invitation of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic, we discussed these and more issues in the framework of the second meeting of the European Network INTEGRATE from 19-21 March 2018.
Together with more than 40 representatives of ministries, state forests and private forest owners, researchers and practitioners from 10 European countries, we spent three inspiring days in the Czech Republic. Most of the participants came from Poland, Slovakia, Germany, Croatia, Austria and – of course – the Czech Republic, and Italy was represented by a new network member from the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. Joining INTEGRATE for the first time, policy makers from Finland, Latvia and Belgium shared their countries’ approaches to forest management and the integration of nature protection in forest policy.
To round up an already eventful week at the EFI Bonn, EFI-Senior Expert Alexander Held took us (Laura Nikinmaa, Junior Researcher and Johanna Strieck, Communications Trainee) last Friday, February 24th to controlled heathland burning to the Drover Heide, nearby Bonn, to learn more on fire management and to get an idea of its practical application in the field. It was a great day for making your first experiences with controlled burning, and the compact small-scale operation on 10-15 ha allowed plenty of time for explanations. Sun exposure and wind speed was quite high and the level of humidity was moderate to high.
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.