Navigating the changing climate: a new study on how practitioners tackle adapting forests to climate change

Navigating the changing climate: a new study on how practitioners tackle adapting forests to climate change

The forest cover is ever more under pressure, a changing climate and loss of biodiversity are two ongoing crises that increasingly threaten our forests. More frequent and more intense natural disturbances, such as storms, wildfires and drought, hamper the ability of forests to deliver the wide range of ecosystem services demanded by society. To tackle this challenge, forest managers and owners have been turning to the concept of climate change adaptation to guide their way to more resistant and resilient forests. But how do forest practitioners implement climate change adaptation measures in forests on the ground and how do these approaches vary in different regions in Europe? What challenges do they face implementing these measures and where do they see room for improvement? A new Integrate Network study, Challenges & experiences in adapting forest management to a changing climate – a practitioner’s view investigates these questions from the perspective of forest practitioners.

Norway spruce stands infested by bark beetle, photo: Andreas Schuck

By directly communicating with practitioners, the study actively explores how forest enterprises perceive climate change, the adaptation measures they apply, as well as the challenges they face in their implementation. It also delves into understanding what knowledge sources influence their decision-making. Finally, as biodiversity loss and climate change are two intrinsically linked crises the study examines the interplay between climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation measures and how forest practitioners perceive their respective importance.

The study found that most forest enterprises are impacted by climate change. The magnitude of these impacts was highlighted by a state forest practitioner in Belgium saying “You are already clearly seeing impacts and they will [in the years to come] be worse than what we have experienced over the past few millennia”.

Respondents impacted by climate change
in their forest enterprise (in %)

As the effects are already perceived by many forest practitioners, many of them have implemented adaptation measures. The study showed that a diversity of measures is used, however, some emerge as preferred options across regions in Europe, such as tree species selection. However, certain measures may be more successful in some regions as compared to others, emphasizing the importance of regional context. Further, the study concluded that implementing adaptation measures does not always run smoothly. Lack of capacities and resources, challenges regarding extreme events, and forest regeneration are the most common challenges faced by forest enterprises. In particular, the severe effects of browsing on forest regeneration were flagged by many forest practitioners. As one forest enterprise in Switzerland stated, “Various woodlands cannot be regenerated due to the high game pressure; the growth of pioneer trees, which are of great importance for structured regeneration and can significantly shorten reforestation in the event of large-scale calamities, is also prevented on a broad scale”.

Forest practitioners also saw the need to jointly address the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, as most respondents perceive equal importance between adaptation and biodiversity conservation. Moreover, the study results suggest that addressing both can go hand in hand, as there are synergies rather than conflicts between adaptation and biodiversity conservation measures. Concluding, the study provides an important overview of how forest practitioners are tackling climate change in managed forests. Further discussions among practitioners and decision-makers should take place taking into consideration the know-how and experiences of forest managers and owners since they will be the ones to navigate forests through challenging times ahead.

We would like to thank the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (BAFU) for funding this study.
Article was written by: Silvester Boonen, Lyla O’Brien, Andreas Schuck, Maria Schloßmacher
Featured image: Andreas Schuck