Under increasing pressure: The Swiss forest should adapt to climate change

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(© Image: Fotolia)
(© Image: Fotolia)
Swiss forests are being severely affected by climate change and extreme events. Drought, hot summers, storms and late frosts have weakened the trees in recent years. As a result, they have become more susceptible to disease and insect pests. The combination of these factors is impacting the forest as a vital resource. The federal government, cantons, and forest owners are working together with the timber industry for the preservation of a diverse, resilient, and adaptable ecosystem. On May 4, 2023, the canton of Jura, the Conference for Forests, Wildlife and Landscape (KWL) and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) provided information on the current state and challenges at a media conference in Ajoie (JU).

The consequences of the increased occurrence of storms, increasingly intense droughts, and the proliferation of the bark beetle, as well as combinations of these three phenomena, have been particularly visible since 2018 and have had a strong impact on the forest in some places. The risk of forest fires has also increased.

"The pace of climate change is outstripping the forest ecosystem’s natural ability to adapt to change. It is therefore up to us humans to step in and help the forest improve this capacity," said FOEN Director Katrin Schneeberger. "For example, it is becoming apparent that spruce forests on the Central Plateau have no future, but protection forests are also threatened. That’s why we need to take action, in our own interest." The report "Adapting the Forest to Climate Change" adopted by the Federal Council explains the fields of action (see box).

Implementation in the cantons

"The good cooperation between the federal government and the cantons led the way in the preparation of the report," emphasized Governor Stefan Müller, head of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry of the Canton of Appenzell-Innerrhoden and KWL board member. "Together with the federal government, the cantons have identified three priority areas for action. The aim is to enable sustainable forest regeneration on all forest sites, to keep climate-sensitive forest stands stable over the years and to ensure safety in recreational forests."

"Individual emergency measures are already being implemented in the Swiss forest. A recent survey of all cantons showed that these measures have proven their worth and that the financial requirements will also be very high in the coming years," said Stefan Müller.

In the Jura a phenomenon of great consequence

The accumulated occurrence of extreme weather events has reached almost catastrophic proportions in the canton of Jura. In 2019, hundreds of hectares of beech forest withered and the trees died. Since then, extensive work has been done to secure roads and reforest the damaged forests. Meanwhile, there are still places where withered forests - like the one presented on May 4.

"This forestry disaster has overturned many of the procedures and lessons previously taken for granted," stressed David Eray, Jurassic environment minister and KWL board member. "After emergency and crisis management, the challenge now is to manage the transition to climate-adapted forests. This can only be achieved with modern forest management, targeted silvicultural measures and the long-term commitment of forest owners and professionals, whose efforts must continue to be supported. It is the craft of our foresters to develop structurally rich, resilient forests of tomorrow."

The forest is particularly affected by climate change. It should be preserved as a diverse ecosystem and fulfill its functions even under changed conditions. Last December, the Federal Council adopted the report "Adaptation of the forest to climate change", which was prepared in close cooperation with the cantons and with the involvement of the Association of Swiss Forest Owners. The report defines 19 short-, medium- and long-term measures that take into account the protective effect and the use of forest and wood resources. Thirteen of these measures can be implemented directly. The other six measures are still being examined in terms of legal basis and finances.
Thomas Abt, Secretary General KWL, 31 320 16 40, thomas.abt@kwl-cfp.ch