Climate-adapted forest management in high altitude: the INFORMA Northern Limestone Alps case study

High mountain peaks, rich wildlife and two national parks surround the INFORMA case study in Austria: the Forest Management District of Göstling, in the Northern Limestone Alps.  The district is part of the Prealps Unit of the Austrian Federal Forests, comprising a remote area of approximately 10,000 ha mainly covered by mountain forests with altitudes ranging from 600-1800 meters above sea level.

Although undeniably scenic, this vast forested landscape is also marked by contradictions. Historically, the naturally occurring Norway Spruce has been favoured by foresters due to its superior growth  performance and ease of management. But as climate change worsens and increases the occurrence of droughts, which weaken trees’ natural defence mechanisms, the species is becoming a common target of destructive bark beetle outbreaks.

As Norway Spruce is particularly vulnerable to climate change, the overall strategic aim of forest management is to reduce its share in species composition and establish mixed-species forest stands. To achieve this, measures are necessary to minimise another less obvious disturbance: ungulate browsing. The impact of ungulate browsing constitutes a severe problem for forest regeneration – both in the case of natural regeneration and of tree planting – and may require costly measures to protect tree saplings of species such as silver fir and beech.

Current management in the Austrian case study focuses on timber production in certain areas and on nature conservation in others, such as nature reserves where there is no human intervention or very low-intensity management. In managed areas, the main goal is wood production and the most common approach to harvesting is the strip-wise shelterwood method, in which mature trees are removed in a series of cuttings, enabling the stand to regenerate below the partial shelter of the remaining old trees. Regeneration may also be actively supported by planting. Other forest management goals include wildlife management, hunting as well as protection from gravitational hazards (avalanches, rockfall, erosion, and landslides).

The project activities in the area are led by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU).