INFORMA’s Scientific Committee Chair hands Foresters Board award to Spain’s former PM Felipe González

Destructive forest fires are increasing in Spain, and so is awareness of their connection to climate change. A topic worth more visibility, however, is how societal factors such as the abandonment of rural areas contribute to catalyse forest fires. With this in mind, the Spanish Board of Forest Engineers (Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros de Montes – COIM) distinguished the work of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González in drawing public attention to the issue. The award of COIM Honorary Member was handed to González this October in Madrid by INFORMA’s Scientific Committee Chairman and COIM dean, Eduardo Rojas Briales, from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV).

According to the COIM, González has worked since 2016 to disseminate the circumstances surrounding the problem of forest fires and, simultaneously, promoted practical solutions, emphasising the importance of sustainable forest management and the development of the rural economy as the most effective means of prevention.

Eduardo Rojas Briales said “This is a well-deserved recognition because the informative work carried out by Felipe González is in line with the work that the COIM has been doing for years. We have always shared in our institution the concern about forest fires, but in recent years, this concern has intensified due to the significant growth of our forest area. It is worth remembering that Spain is not experiencing deforestation, but quite the opposite. This is largely due to the abandonment of rural areas. The lack of timely action exposes us to the serious risk of facing mega-fires that could jeopardise everything we achieved in recent decades”.

For the COIM, it is essential to focus efforts on land planning and management. In this sense, Felipe González emphasised that “when the degrees reached by this mass of fire exceed a thousand degrees, as if it were the La Palma Volcano, there is no water to combat it. All the water that falls on it simply evaporates before it hits the ground, but everyone is calling for more seaplanes, more helicopters… and specialists know that they are not working. This is really one of the things that shocked me the most because I was really focused for a long time on the technology and the available means of firefighting”.

The Board also believes that measures such as revitalising forest management and supporting extensive livestock farming are essential to reduce the intensity of fires should they occur. Furthermore, it stresses the importance of encouraging extensive farming to create and maintain effective separations between forest areas, while at the same time combating the abandonment of the rural environment in a coherent manner. As Felipe González commented: “We have to know this, because it is essential for governance and for the media, the landscape and the countryside. Local people will not always be right, but you have to listen to what they have to say. There is nothing that protects the forest more, and nothing that improves the fight against forest fires more than a landscape that is aware of what it is worth, especially if it has a communal value”.

Finally, the COIM considers it necessary to address the barriers that hinder the implementation of these actions, such as excessive restrictions on primary activities or the lack of management of small properties in the adverse context of climate change.

Source: Adapted from COIM press release “Felipe González, nombrado Colegiado de Honor del Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros de Montes“, 6 October 2023.

Where cultural heritage, climate adaptation and Sustainable Forest Management meet: the Carpathian Mountain Forests

Our Romanian case study, representative of Carpathian Mountain Forests, is embedded in a complex socio-cultural context. The Râșca Forest District is situated in a region in Romania that is home to several historical monasteries, hermitage sites and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. INFORMA’s research in the area, led by the University Stefan cel Mare of Suceava (USV), will create new approaches to climate-adapted forest management that take stakeholders’ needs and perspectives into account. Keep reading to find out more about the case study!

The Râșca Forest District is located in the Eastern part of the Carpathian Mountains, in an area of 13,000 ha owned by the state and managed by the Râșca Forest District Administration, a part of the Romanian National Forest Administration. There, traditional communities live in close proximity to the forest and many residents rely on it for their income, generated by forestry, the tourism and wood sectors and other forest-related activities such as selling firewood, handcrafted furniture and sculptures of religious items.

The broadleaved and coniferous forests in the district consist mostly of beech, Norway spruce, and silver fir, both in mixed and pure forest stands. Damages caused by windstorms and pest disturbances, as well as the lack of forest management infrastructure (such as roads), are the most relevant management challenges currently faced in the area. As climate change increases the frequency of forest disturbances, the adaptation of management approaches to new climate scenarios will be required – a mission to be tackled by INFORMA.

Romanian forests are classified into three main management types: strictly protected forests, where no wood harvest is allowed; production forests and protected forests. In protected forests, the main management objective is to deliver ecosystem services, which vary from area to area, for instance, water and soil protection, protection against climate change impacts, scientific interest, and biodiversity conservation. More than 26,7% of state-owned forests belong to the soil protection category.

In productive forests, the regular management is based on long rotation periods of over 120 years. Natural regeneration is obtained using both shelterwood cutting – a timber harvesting method focused on establishing forest regeneration – and group selection, which results in the removal of small groups of trees.  Consequently, the aboveground biomass stored in these forests is quite high. Within the Râșca Forest District, an area of 1,000 hectares is managed with a lower harvesting intensity than average, in order to protect it against soil erosion.

There are two municipalities in the Râșca river basin: Râșca and Bogdanesti, with 9000 inhabitants. The area, however, has been to some extent affected by rural exodus and migration of workers abroad, a tendency impacting the entire region.

The most important benefits of forests are the ecosystem services delivered to the community and society in general. Climate change affects forest resources and might impact culturally and economically important plant and animal species, which in turn affects the community development, culture and economy. Large-scale disturbances such as windthrows are expected, with consequences on forestry and the wood industry. Forests also have socio-ecological importance and climate changes can shape the effectiveness of forests protection. Therefore, INFORMA’s research in the Romanian case study should bring information needed to proactively adopt management measures able to preserve the current level of the ecosystem services delivery.

New paper: The effects of silvicultural treatments on Aleppo pine, a key species in times of climate change

A new open access paper published by INFORMA researchers in Forests MDPI explores the impact of different silvicultural treatments on Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis Mill.) forests. The species is present in most lowland forests on limestone soils and semiarid to sub-humid climates in the Mediterranean basin.

Although the Aleppo pine is considered a key species in times of climate change due to its pioneer nature, versatility, and flexibility, there is a knowledge gap on the effects of silvicultural treatments (such as thinnings and transformation to uneven-aged stands) on tree growth, vulnerability and forest resilience. The study aims to bridge that gap by comparing managed to unmanaged research plots.

The new paper is authored by Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) researchers Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Jose-Vicente Oliver-Villanueva, Victoria Lerma-Arce, and Edgar Lorenzo-Sáez, as well as Palacký University researcher David Fuente.

Access the publication “Improving Sustainable Forest Management of Pinus halepensis Mill. Mid-Aged Stands in a Context of Rural Abandonment, Climate Change, and Wildfires”.

Photo credit: Mario Piskor/Unsplash

New video: Enhancing EU’s carbon sinks through sustainable forest management

Are forests solutions or victims in the battle against climate change? Increasing forests’ carbon sinks while keeping them healthy and resilient can be a difficult balancing act, especially since local needs and expectations also have to be considered.

In the INFORMA project, we are looking into the best science-based approaches to Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) for climate mitigation in the context of Europe’s five main forest bioregions. INFORMA’s new introduction video presents our main lines of research and how they will transform into concrete SFM guidelines that are applicable across 94% of Europe’s forests.

Watch the full video:

Managing your forest or not? Find out with the INFORMA Forest Management Platform

By Jonas Simons and Bart Muys (KU Leuven)

Imagine you are responsible for a large, forested area in Europe. Will you manage it, or let nature run its course? If you decide to manage your forest, what would be the consequences? Would it store more carbon? Would it use its resources more efficiently, or produce more wood? What about biodiversity conservation? Would the unmanaged choice have more bird species? Another factor to consider is the frequency of disturbance events, such as fires and windstorms, which is increasing due to climate change. Since you will want to keep the resilience of your forest high, which management option would contribute better to this goal?

Unfortunately, current research answers these questions ambiguously. The relationships between the management of forests, provisioning of several ecosystem services and resilience to disturbances remain rather unclear. In addition, several of the ecosystem services we expect from forests have trade-offs between each other. The bottom line is: before deciding what to do with your forest, you should know your viable management options (including the decision to not manage), and which consequences different implementation options have on how your forest functions. In Work Package 2 (WP2) of INFORMA, led by KU Leuven, we will investigate this knowledge gap. To do so, we are developing the INFORMA Forest Management Platform: a new, large database that is specifically designed to answer management-related questions for European forests. 

The idea behind the Platform is to compare adjacent managed and unmanaged forest patches all over Europe. This is being done by linking unmanaged patches with one or more managed patches in their vicinity (as shown in the banner image of this post). We can then compare ecosystem functioning between the forest patches in such a cluster.

However, if we want to statistically extract the effect of forest management, we should keep other factors that influence ecosystem functioning as similar as possible. This is why forest patches within a cluster should differ as little as possible in terms of climate, soil, topography (elevation, slope and aspect) and land use legacy.

Also the species composition is accounted for. This variable is somewhat more complex: within the cluster, we make sure that there is at least one managed patch that has a similar species composition to the unmanaged patch. This allows us to investigate the effect of management that influences forest structure (such as thinning, logging, etc.) in all clusters. Since the choice of species can be a management decision in itself, if a cluster contains more than one managed patch, we allow for one of the patches to have a different species composition. In any case, the other properties, such as soil, climate etc., should still be as similar as possible.

Europe has multiple forest types. In order to make the database representative, we need to make sure that the major forest types are represented with a sufficient amount of clusters. To achieve this, five INFORMA core regions will be used for the Platform: the Woods of Brabant (Belgium, Atlantic forest), the Segre-Rialb Basin (Spain, Mediterranean forest), the Northern Karelia region (Finland, boreal forest), the Northern Limestone Alps (Austria, alpine forest) and the Râșca Forest District (Romania, continental forest).

All of these regions link to partners within the INFORMA project. These are local experts that help with the design of the Platform through 1) suggesting clusters to include in the Platform based on their expert knowledge of the region, 2) provisioning data that can be used to delineate the patches and perform analyses and 3) suggesting context-dependent variables to include in the analysis (for example, whether we should rather incorporate soil texture or soil depth in a specific region). In addition to these five regions, the Division Forest, Nature and Landscape (FNL) of KU Leuven will use its international contacts to expand the Platform into other European countries, thereby increasing its representativeness and quality.

The delineation of the patches happens in several steps. First, the WP2 members write a protocol, discussing in detail what the Platform should look like, as well as the minimum requirements for the patches and the clusters (e.g. size). In a second step, the local experts suggest several clusters in their region based on this protocol. Next, a session with WP2 members and the local experts is organized to discuss 1) whether the requirements have been met, 2) whether there have been obstacles and 3) whether there are more opportunities for finding additional clusters, or whether there are other things to consider. Once this has been resolved, we do a final checkup of the requirements based on existing databases and satellite imagery, and then delineate the final clusters to be included in the Platform. In a last phase, every patch in the database will be populated with site information derived from existing databases, as well as values indicating ecosystem service performance derived from satellite imagery, e.g. carbon sequestration and water-use efficiency.

Once the database has been populated and analyses have been done, it will finally be ready to be used in practice! For instance, the database can help guide policy-making: which ecosystem services require management and which do not? It can also be used by forest managers to determine whether and how they can optimize certain ecosystem functions in their forests. Furthermore, it can support scientists in further research, adding detailed and different analyses, field data campaigns etc.

Lastly, it can contribute to answering your very difficult question… what to do with your forest: to manage or not to manage? To find out the answers, stay tuned to the INFORMA website, where we will announce the launch of the Forest Management Platform in the course of the project.