Adaptation: Field of Action Forestry

Stack of wood logsClick to enlarge
Climate change is a threat to forestry production yields.
Source: nena2112/

Although forestry has a relatively high degree of adaptability in comparison to other sectors, the implementation of individual measures is complex and expensive. In addition, the results often only become visible after many years. However, adaptation is necessary to protect the important ecological functions of forests and maintain their economic potential.

Technical measures

Technical measures can especially support forest ecosystems in very dry regions where water is insufficiently available during summer months. These measures counteract the increasing lack of water and a drop in the groundwater level. The water balance of soils in alluvial forests can be stabilised by rewetting measures, for example.

Technical measures can also provide protection against forest fires. The forest fire monitoring can be supported by, for example, additional video measures or satellite-based systems.

Ecosystem measures

In forestry, ecosystem adaptation measures are particularly important. As regards measures that focus on the level of ecosystems, strategic planning by politics and the competent forestry institutions is extremely important. In the past, forest ecosystems have constantly adapted to changing environmental conditions, but the extent and the rapid progression of anthropogenic climate change can overstretch the adaptability of long-living tree species. In addition, the adaptability of the different tree species varies. An example is the spruce that is rather common in Germany. It favours cool and moist locations, and is therefore not particularly drought and heat tolerant. Since it is already commonly grown outside of its natural range because of its rapid growth rate, its adaptability will continue to decline in the future.

The conversion of forest monocultures – such as the commonly found spruce or pine monocultures – into structure- and species-rich, multi-layered and thus near-natural mixed forests is a necessary means to ensure the use, protective and recreational functions of the forest in the long term and promote biodiversity. A broader structural and genetic diversity increases the resilience of cultivated forests and thus their adaptability. Resilience means that an ecosystem is capable of withstanding environmental shocks and disturbances such as insect infestations or storms and maintaining its basic organisation and functionality.

Forest conversion measures also contribute to fire protection. In the near future, the risk of forest fires may increase due to longer and more frequent dry and hot periods. Mixed forests are less endangered by forest fires because they have a more humid interior climate. Species-rich mixed forests are also more resistant to insect pests and fungus. Bavaria has already begun with the conversion of forests. As part of the “Forest Conversion Programme Climate Change", 10,000 hectares of coniferous forest in the Bavarian Forest are being converted into mixed forests.

Another possible silvicultural adaptation measure is the introduction of non-native tree species such as the Douglas fir from North America. Compared to many native tree species, this tree is more resistant to temperature changes. Such measures, however, also have to consider nature conservation interests.

The forest conversion allows for a diversification of the timber supply, which also entails economic benefits. In addition, particular mountain forests have the important function of protecting the infrastructure and settlements against rock falls and floods. Forest conversion can also strengthen this function.

In addition, a higher consumption of wood is necessary to contribute to the rejuvenation of the forests. The German forests are increasingly over aged. This leads to a decline in biomass growth and carbon uptake. Rejuvenation on the other hand increases the adaptability and promotes the natural selection of climate-adapted populations.

Legal, political and management measures

As mentioned above, the adaptation of forestry to climate change requires a consistent risk management that deals with damage incidents such as forest fires, storm damage or pest infestation. This is the only way to ensure that risks are identified in time, repelled and dealt with successfully. In addition to short-term crisis management, especially preventive measures such as coordinated water management plans to reduce the risk of fire are important. They should be coordinated at all levels of planning by forest owners, municipalities, landscape associations, forest administration, fire brigade and road construction to incorporate the interests of all stakeholders and to avoid conflicts of use. Projects that develop and test such prevention and management measures are, for example ENFORCHANGE, ForEVAS and RESTER.

The described risk management plans and forest conversion measures require comprehensive knowledge. Against this background, it is necessary to have accurate information as to which tree species are suitable for the respective location when taking future impacts of climate change into account. In addition, it is also necessary to use planning maps or site-mapping to provide information on the prosperity of the tree species under relevant environmental and climate factors. The operation of test areas, regional cultivation recommendations provided by federal and state governments, regular monitoring and research on the use of wood could further improve the information base.

Forest and soil monitoring programmes at European, national or federal state level presently already supply important information. However, there is still enough potential to expand the knowledge base and improve the networking amongst relevant players.

Additionally, with the Forest Climate Fund, the federal government has created a tool that provided seven million euros inter alia for adaptation measures in 2013.

If you are interested in obtaining information about concrete impacts of climate change in the field of action forestry, please click here.