By: CEEweb for Biodiversity, a network of 64 non-governmental organizations in the Central and Eastern European region. Our mission is the conservation of biodiversity through the promotion of sustainable development
This is part four of a 6 article series on policy recommendations for climate change. If you haven’t already, read the previous articles:
- The necessity of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change at national level
- The ecosystem based approach in agriculture
- Ecosystem based approach for water
Ecosystem-based approach in forestry
European forests will also be seriously challenged by climate change. Maintaining healthy, well managed forests are essential not only in tropical countries but in Europe too: they are home to thousands of species, and protect soils and watersheds from erosion. They act as carbon stores, absorbing greenhouse gases and preventing their release into the atmosphere.
The natural area of several European tree species will be likely to shift as a response to climate change, and therefore there will probably be changes in species composition of many forests. Migration of species will be enhanced; however it is often difficult due to intensive forest management as well as natural and anthropogenic barriers. The resilience and adaptation capacity of forests against climate change largely depends on their natural dynamics as well as biological (i.e. diversity of micro-habitats, species and genetic variables within species) and structural diversity (i.e. age distribution of trees as well as mosaic-structures with large trees, openings, young groups, deadwood and in certain habitat types, patches of grasslands and wetlands).
Currently there are two different approaches in European forestry when facing climate change. The ‘technocratic approach‘ prefers intensification of forest use, using arguments for both climate change mitigation and adaptation. According to the mitigation arguments, intensive growth and short rotation period is supposed to result in higher carbon sequestration. However, recent scientific studies have shown that C sequestration and storage is, in the long-term, significantly higher in non-managed forests or forests under sustainable management than those with intensive use, especially if we calculate with dead biomass and soil carbon, too. Arguments for adaptation aim to control natural shift in species composition by artificial replacement of species. However, this requires intensive forest management, leading to decreased biological and structural diversity and consequently lower natural resilience to disturbances. Irreversible and long-term artificial changes in species composition alter the structure and dynamics of forests in an unpredictable way, thus this approach involves high risks and should be clearly distinguished and restricted to plantations.
On the other hand, the approach of ‘sustainable forest management’ enables long-term carbon sequestration and storage in old-growth forests, considering also the significant capacities of dead biomass and soil. In fact, close-to nature forests already store huge amounts of carbon in Europe. Avoiding the emission of this stored carbon by maintaining the natural state of forests should be priority. When it comes to adaptation to climate change, natural systems enable gradual changes in species composition during a natural process. Sustainable or close-to-nature forest management systems (e.g. shelterwood) serve as integrated solution, increasing structural diversity, enabling natural processes and strengthening the forests’ natural resilience and adaptation capacity. Close-to-nature forests host a variety of micro-habitats, among which especially wetlands make forests effective in buffering extreme hydrological events as functioning as a natural sponge, retaining water in periods of excessive precipitation and gradually releasing it in periods of water scarcity, thus effectively working against both floods and droughts at landscape level.
Therefore, in protected areas and in special environments (e.g. riparian forests, dry forests), close-to-nature adaptive management should be the only acceptable method. As a general rule, the ratio between forested areas with non-use, sustainable use and intensive use should be changed in the future to a growing proportion of non-use and sustainable use, and intensive use should be only allowed in plantations, clearly distinguished from natural forests.
Example: state forestry in Poland
Network of areas with non-intervention management in Polish state forests
About 80% of Polish forests are state owned, managed by 17 Regional Directorates. Some years ago, Polish Directorate of State Forests decided to apply for FCS certificate (www.fcs.org). It was decided that certification would be implemented on the Regional Directorate level. Now, 15 out of the 17 Regional Directorates have FCS certificate of good forest management. One of the FCS standards is:
6.4 Representative samples of existing ecosystems within the landscape shall be protected in their natural state and recorded on maps, appropriate to the scale and intensity of operations and the uniqueness of the affected resources.
According to the interpretation of “representative samples” in the detailed Polish FCS standards, as well as in practice of the certification, this should be not less than 5%. Additionally, the FCS Principle 9 requires “to designate High Conservation Value Forests” and to manage them in a way conserving high conservation values – for some forests this should be achieved by non-intervention management. To meet the above criteria, most of the Regional Directorates have designated 5% of their territory as unmanaged forests (either already subject of non-intervention or newly established). Internal regulations for this were adopted in each Regional Directorates (they are slightly different in details).
Small scale water retention in lowland forests of Poland
The seasonal climate variation including higher spring precipitation and summer dry periods combined with a long lasting drainage have led to excessive drought occurring in lowland forest ecosystems in Poland. In response to water management needs, the State Forests since the mid-90’s have been undertaking small scale water retention works. In the year 2006 decision was made to aggregate individual initiatives taken by particular Forest Districts into a single project. The main goals of the project are: to counteract negative changes in hydrological conditions in lowland forest ecosystems, to prevent drought and floods and to restore wetland habitats in forested areas. The project ‘Enhancing Water Storage Capacity and Preventing Floods and Drought in Lowland Forest Ecosystems’ implemented by the General Directorate of the State Forests is the first one to be conducted on such a large scale, covering 191 forest districts. The main idea of the project is to promote environmentally sound methods of water storage in the forests. The project activities consist of constructing small scale water retention infrastructure (e.g. sluices, dikes, stopbanks) and also restoration of moor, marshes and other types of wetlands. Planned capacity of water storage reached ca. 45 mln m3.
In the next article: recommendations for climate change adaptation in the area of nature conservation