Intergovernmental action to protect forests in Europe
Four conferences of the European Ministers of Forestry have addressed the role of forests as an important economic factor to date, stressing their significant contribution in protecting human settlements and infrastructure against natural hazards and providing benefits such as recreation and preservation of ecological diversity. They also focused on protection of the forest heritage. The First Ministerial Conference on the Protection of the Forests in Europe took place in December 1990 in Strasbourg, France, as a common initiative of France and Finland. Because of concern about “forest dieback,” cross-border protection of European forests was discussed for the first time at the ministerial level.
The ministers responsible for forestry committed themselves to technical and scientific cooperation and signed a declaration of principles and Strasbourg Resolutions S1–S6. This initiated the Pan- European Process for the Protection of the Forests, continued in Helsinki, Finland, in 1993, with the outcome of the debate laid down in Resolutions H1–H4, taking into consideration measures agreed to at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Within the framework of the Third Ministerial Conference, which took place in June 1998 in Lisbon, Portugal, a General Declaration was adopted, and Resolutions L1 and L2 were signed. Europe has thus reinforced its willingness to promote and safeguard the various ecological, economic, cultural, and social benefits of forests on a sustainable basis.
A working document was designed to implement Resolution S4, “Adapting the Management of Mountain Forests to New Environmental Conditions.” At an International Workshop in May 2000 in Igls/Tyrol, Austria, named The Sustainable Future of Mountain Forests in Europe, the Federal Office and Research Centre for Forests and the University of Agricultural Sciences in Vienna, Austria, presented research results and needs, followed by a list of demands for harmonized action and sustainable management of forests at the European level. The findings were presented at the Fourth Ministerial Conference held in April 2003 in Vienna for the preparation of further resolutions regarding international forest policy.
European mountain forests: a special concern
Sixty-seven percent of Austria's territory fits the European Union definition of “mountainous area,” and nearly half of Austria's 2351 communities live and work in this area. Thus, it was very important for Austria that the ministers agreed in Lisbon to promote implementation of commitments made previously within the framework of the ministerial conferences in Strasbourg and Helsinki, in collaboration with international bodies and organizations. For this reason continuation of the implementation of Resolution S4, “Adapting the Management of Mountain Forests to New Environmental Conditions,” was endorsed, and the newly established European Observatory of Mountain Forests (EOMF) was charged with the preparation of a working document for the European Mountain Forests Action Plan (EMFAP), designed for the implementation of Resolution S4.
Reviewing research and research needs in Austria
The Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management entrusted the Federal Office and Research Centre for Forests with the compilation of research results and research needs relating to the theme of the workshop in Vienna, taking into account two of the topics formulated in part I/10 of Resolution S4:
Determination of geographical units by identifying and studying all environmental factors.
Production of ecological maps at the valley and catchment level, including data on environment and risks.
The sustainability of mountain forests can be evaluated using standardized methods applied to an entire national territory and within regional studies. The state of knowledge of risk factors and necessary steps to be taken to improve understanding of the economic and ecological interactions is the basis of further national and international cooperation in the fields of science and policy.
Austrian knowledge that may contribute to sustainable management of forest ecosystems at the European level as well as to adaptation of mountain forest management to new environmental conditions is briefly summarized below. This overview was prepared in cooperation with the Institute of Silviculture of the University of Agricultural Sciences in Vienna. Mountain forests are defined as forests in the montane and subalpine zones of the Alps, in accordance with COST Action E3 (COST: European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research) on the role of forests in protecting rural mountain areas.
Determination of geographical units by identifying and studying all environmental factors
Classification according to “forest growth areas and altitudinal levels” (Kilian et al 1994), “criteria of naturalness” (Koch 1999), and “key functions of forests” (Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft 1999) constitutes a planning instrument and is the basis for economic development, landscape and environmental planning, conservation, and forest policy decisions and measures at the national and federal levels. The following research needs were identified:
Refinement of growth area classification—especially for sensitive regions at a scale between 1:10,000 and 1:50,000—as a basis for environmentally sound planning and designing of corresponding management and protection measures.
Establishment of a map or a manual of the potentially natural forest communities (PNFC) in Austria. A compilation of all existing maps and their transfer into a useful forest association nomenclature, as well as the development of methods for the production of PNFC maps from available local information (eg, hemeroby study, Austrian Forest Inventory, natural forest reserves, Austrian Forest Soil Survey) using geographic information system technology.
Identification of Austrian torrent catchment areas according to a unified classification.
Production of ecological maps at the valley and catchment level including data on environment and risks
Table 1 summarizes the available national and regional maps of environmental and risk factors. The ecological maps are the basis for enhancing understanding of ecological and economic interrelations. The risk maps provide a basis for further national and international political measures and scientific activities. The following research needs were identified:
Refinement of the maps showing critical levels and critical loads for regional assessment.
Risk assessment of N-input, concerning drinking water resources and transit regulations.
Modeling of risk due to climate change for the main tree species in Austria.
Establishment of limiting values for heavy-metal content in forest soils.
National and regional maps of environmental and risk factors in Austria. The full references are listed in Kudjelka et al (2000).