Sustainable Forest Management and Climate Change Risks
It might seem that the problems of long-term and multifunctional forest management have largely been solved by adopting a pan-European definition that describes it as follows: "Sustainable management means the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in such a way, and at such a rate that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, while causing no damage to other ecosystems." (MCPFE, Helsinki 1993)
Universal criteria for testing the intensity of pan-European sustainable forest management (Resolution H1) are:
- maintenance and appropriate enhancement of forest resources and their contribution to global carbon cycles;
- maintenance of forest ecosystems’ health and vitality;
- maintenance and encouragement of productive functions of forests (wood and non-wood);
- maintenance, conservation and appropriate enhancement of biological diversity in forest ecosystems;
- maintenance, conservation and appropriate enhancement of protective functions in forest management (notably soil and water); and,
- maintenance of other socio-economic functions and conditions.
In addition to the aforementioned specific criteria, there have been other indicators including legal, institutional and financial matters. The strategic goals, complementary to the tasks arising from the definition of sustainability in Serbia, help ease the process of their implementation. These goals are seemingly simple and they pertain to:
1. improving conditions of the existing forests, predominantly of coppice origin, partial diluteness of texture, fragmentation of land holdings in the private sector and increasingly vulnerable health of the forests at the aggregate level,
2. creation of new forests by afforestation, taking into account their environmental, social and productive role (according to the strategic development plan there should be 9 000 ha of new forests created in Serbia per year).
However, this is embodied in an insufficiently understood and inadequately defined natural process relating to forest ecosystems and their dynamism, which has been so far highly burdened by human detrimental influence.
Issues that have come to the surface over the last few years proved to be a serious threat to the forest ecosystems. The problems that have escalated between 2011 and 2014 pertain to:
- gypsy moth infestations of various degrees in oak and other deciduous forests on an area spanning approximately 300 000 ha, equally affecting unprotected and protected resorts (e.g. Djerdap National Park, reservations and similar);
- forest fires, especially those that had broken out in 2012, hit an area of roughly 10 000 ha partially damaging national parks and nature reserves (Tara National Park);
- drying out the forests (loosely defined as defoliation) of almost entire Serbia’s territory - uncontrolled and persistent, often threatening trees on lists of relict, endemic, rare and endangered species (more often affecting coniferous than deciduous forests and primarily killing Picea Omorika, or Serbian Spruce);
- flash floods in the spring of 2014 causing damage in the forests costing over 400 million Dinars.
Nevertheless, the forests still ensure the cleanliness of the water and reduce the effects of its chaotic movement by minimising its surface stream and maximising its underground flow.
An obvious but equally complicated question arises: What can be done about the aforementioned criteria burdened by the above issues given that such a phenomena could become a part of our daily lives? It almost renders the dilemma of whether they are caused by climate change unimportant. Simply, these events are happening and our aim is to protect the forest by understanding its role in life and our environment.
Hence, the key problem is the adaptation of the forest ecosystems to climate change that is taking place at an extremely high speed. Undertaking adequate measures in forest management could, to some extent, help in reducing ecological and socio-economic consequences of the impending forest degradation affected by climate change.
What does that actually mean?
The expected implications of the climate changes on the forest ecosystems, forest communities as well as the tree species, shrubs and ground flora that form the forests include:
Shifting the borders of different forest types in relation to latitude and altitudes - we can already observe it in Serbia when, for example, broadleaved stand penetrates the conifer bands.
Transforming natural redistribution of territories between different types of forests – the beech trees being outgrown by conifers (firs) from above and by oaks and other hardwood species from below;
In the long run, probable loss of the battle of some individual communities and their complete replacement (disappearance) - the best example is the currently highly endangered Serbian Spruce;
Differing composition of some plant communities and the decline of traditional groups in them and occurrence of new ones - drying out of the softwoods in deciduous woodland as well as in coniferous forests.
Changing relation of distinctive tree species towards light;
Higher exposure of the forests to a variety of negative impacts that are direct or indirect consequences of climate change;
What are the responsibilities of management planning and forest management?
- The primary task (which is not included in the indicators of sustainable forest management) refers to the modernisation of learning processes (at all levels) and research methods under contemporary conditions and using up-to-date technologies.
- Forest management planning should be focused on preserving, protecting and increasing biodiversity on the ecosystemic and genetic levels, and, where appropriate, in landscapes.
- Forest management planning, inventory and mapping of forest resources should include ecologically significant habitats, taking into account protected, rare, sensitive and representative ecosystems, areas with endemic species and habitats of endangered groups as defined in reference lists, as well as endangered or protected genetic resources.
- Having the above strategic goals in mind, the forest management needs to be intensified to the greatest possible extent.
- The use of forests needs to be more interlinked and conditioned by its potential, while remaining respectful of its polyfunctional character.
The solution lies in the motto: "Protect first, use second". To do the opposite is easy but, given the past experiences, it could in a very short term produce far-reaching and extremely negative consequences.
Professor Milan Medarević
Dean of Faculty of Forestry, University of Belgrade
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