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Alternative models and robust decision-making for future forest management

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ALTERFOR (Alternative models and robust decision-making for future forest management)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-09-30

European forests are expected to provide a broad range of ecosystem services serving environment, forest industry, energy sectors, rural development and society at large. The capacity to support a desired basket of ecosystem services is however threatened by uncertainties of climate change effects on forest long term resilience and productivity, pressures for increased use of forests for climate mitigation, and evolving global markets.
The European Commission recently released the European Green Deal, a new growth strategy including a set of actions and policies aimed at achieving climate neutrality - i.e. an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions - by 2050. The Green Deal roadmap highlights policies and strategies related to forests and the forest sector such as energy supply, circular economy, building and renovation, and preservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity. In light of the demands put on forests, current forest management models (cFMMs) are unlikely to ensure the sustained long-term provisioning of desired ecosystem services. Thus, to meet the challenges faced by society, alternative forest management models (aFMMs) are needed.
ALTERFOR developed aFMMs better suited to meet the challenges of the 21st century by pursuing the following objectives:
(1) Identifying and developing aFMMs robust in their capacity to deliver ecosystem services and overcome projected socio-ecological risks and uncertainties;
(2) Assessing the impact of different aFMM combinations in terms of resultant ecosystem services baskets on the European and landscape level, and
(3) Facilitating the implementation of desired aFMMs and improving cross-national knowledge transfer regarding their benefits, costs, management, and utilization.
ALTERFOR adopted a case study approach in order to cover a wide array of eco-physiological, economic, and social conditions. The selection of cases took into account two key dimensions in developing different aFMMs and raising the capacity for their implementation: amenity versus commodity production and the degree of centralization in forestry decision-making. Furthermore working at case study level allowed for a direct involvement of stakeholders in the respective case study area (CSA). Two rounds of workshops at each CSA gathered more than 700 individuals representing various interest in utilization and protection of forests. The development of aFMMs considered conditions under three global scenarios with data on future demand of wood, wood prices, and climate conditions.
The stand and landscape level aFMMs are in many cases focused on protecting or enhancing biodiversity and, to a lesser extent, on increasing timber production. Where risks for calamities are great, like wild fires, specific aFMMs are suggested. A general trend is that the choice of aFMMs has greater effect on ecosystem services than the different scenario conditions. To highlight a few of the pertinent issues at focus in different CSA: The balance between set aside areas, intensified production and multifunctional forests (Germany); seeking less costly management and reduced wind throw risk (Ireland); more biodiversity and better profitability through more flexible approaches to forest management (Lithuania); change of species, and fuel treatments fostering less wildfire risk, facilitated by increased forest owner cooperation (Portugal).
The aFMMs developed at the CSAs were scaled up to European level (EU28) in order to assess the effects on a larger scale. The result was investigated for the EU in terms of available harvest volumes, biodiversity, and global trade. Setting aside larger areas would reduce production and increase imports from the rest of the world. This could in turn reduce biodiversity globally because if species richness in the land affected by imports of woody biomass to EU is higher than in the production forests of EU28. A balance could be struck between different ecosystem services by combining production oriented and multifunctional aFMMs, where multifunctional aFMMs could reduce the footprint of EU imports on the rest of the world.
Actual impact is realized in the individual estate by the forest owner responsible for managing the forest. Policies, regulations, and proper governance is there to steer and help, but the actions eventually take place on the ground. To that end, ALTERFOR has delivered FMM descriptions at stand level of unprecedented detail in a coherent format that allows knowledge transfer between countries. All CSA have provided demonstration sites of aFMMs with rich documentation including pictures or videos in local language and with links to the project homepage. This will make it easier both to discuss what the methods involve and to apply the silvicultural treatments associated with the respective aFMM.
Case teams upgraded respective decision support systems for projecting the long-term provision of ecosystem services. This concerns such important aspects as the impacts of climate change, spatial explicitness, and consideration to forest owner diversity and their actual behaviour. The capacity to make realistic assessments of different forest strategies in Europe is thus improved.
To promote the capacity to implement aFMMs the ALTERFOR adopted a multi-actor approach, guided by the Research-Integration-Utilisation (RIU) model. Based on the RIU model, a road map for implementation is available. The road map provides guidelines for how to identify and analyse influential actors in terms of their networks, interests and power, and what to observe when it comes to institutional and governance aspects.
The long-term consequences of a widespread adoption of aFMMs have been investigated, providing a link to the policy processes at EU level. ALTERFOR results emphasize the importance of the diversity of conditions in the different European regions. Implementing aFMMs could call for more coordination of management at the landscape level in some countries; or it could require less central steering in other countries. The relative importance of different ecosystem services various a lot among countries and regions. This indicates that European forests and societies might benefit from, on the one hand, better coordination of forest-related policies and from, on the other hand, avoiding oversteering and being sensitive to specific conditions and demands of the Member States.
The knowledge, tools and instruments offered by ALTERFOR have the potential to lead to considerable long term impacts. By adopting alternative, though realistic and implementable, forest management models EU could improve its biodiversity status, increase harvests to satisfy fibre demands, and still maintain its role as net exporter of forest products to outside EU over the 21st century. Compared to current management, by successively introducing a combination of improved multifunctional and production management on only half the production forest, around 5% additional volume could be harvested at the end of the century, and still the biodiversity status would be better than with current management. The introduction of forest management alternatives adapted to climate change is also shown to limit risks and increase resilience. The means are there, the mobilization of forest owners, policy makers and other stakeholders is the next step.