Almost half (47.9 %) of Austria is covered by forests, which have been used by humans for thousands of years. For nearly half a century, the multifunctionality of forests is legally anchored in the Federal Forestry Act (1975) – reflecting both forests’ great value for human health, animals, and plants, and their important contribution to the ecological, economic, and social development of the country. Until recently, the main aim of integrative to forest management in Austria was to guarantee the sustainable use of natural resources and to ensure the sustainable development of Austrian forest ecosystems and functions.
However, in response to climate change and global biodiversity loss, the multifunctionality of forests and the integrative approach as a nature-based solution for climate change adaptation, has changed the discussion among forest managers, owners, conservationists, policy makers and researchers in Austria. The current project “ReSynatWald2.0” (2018-2021), which was initiated by the Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW) in cooperation with Pro Silva Austria, aims at developing a reference area system for long-term observation of close-to-nature silvicultural methods. to provide stakeholders with information on cost-efficiency that can help guide future decision making. For the first time in Austria, silvicultural, economic, and ecological monitoring was combined in one forest area. Based on the knowledge of forest management and development within the areas, recommendations for economically efficient forest management can be determined, but also factors for maintaining and promoting biodiversity can be identified. Involved forest owners involved have committed to regularly recording their performed work as well as use, income, and expenses in a standardized way in order to secure economic indicators for the reference areas. Cooperation with Pro Silva Austria and the individual forest owners are regulated by a formal contract. This has produced exciting preliminary results that show that the development of a reference area system supports forest owners in sustainable decision making. The integration of forestry and biodiversity conservation to safeguard biological diversity, productivity, regenerative capacity, and vitality is perceived as an alternative forest management option in times of climate change. The joint aim of involved stakeholders is to reach ecological, economic, and social targets at the local, national, and global level, without harming other ecosystems. The implementation of integrative forest management, however, faces common challenges such as the need for specific forest type guidance and recommendations, as well as adopting to all ownership structures. The latter are very diverse, as 82% of Austrian forests are privately owned. In conclusion, the collaboration of all partners – Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW), Pro Silva Austria and the forest enterprises – enables a combination of applied science and forestry practice and direct cooperation with practitioners.
This text was prepared by Georg Frank, Nastasja Harnack, and Katharina Lapin from Austrian Research Centre for Forests.
Featured image by Georg Frank: installation of a reference area to monitor the biological and structural dynamics, and the effectiveness of forestry management techniques in the stand.