Forest outlook: What does the future hold?
Forest researchers from around the world will gather at the IUFRO 24th World Congress in Salt Lake City this fall where one of the issues will be to address the future, and the related challenges, facing forests and forest management in the 21st century.
Providing a sort of scientific crystal ball to give glimpses into the years ahead and discuss how to meet and adapt to coming challenges will be a sub-plenary session at the congress entitled, appropriately enough, “The Future of Our Forests”.
Resources for the Future (http://www.iufro.org/science/task-forces/resources-for-future/), the IUFRO Task Force behind this session, has set out to examine four major game-changers – globalization, plantations, new products and forest ecosystem services – and what they mean, and will mean, for forests, forest research and forest-dependent communities.
You’ve got an issue? We’ve got options.
Over the last 30 years practitioners and scholars have been dealing with a range of interventions designed to improve global forest management. These included criteria and indicators (C&I), forest certification and, more recently, legality verification and REDD+, to name but a few.
Despite these well intended efforts, frustration exists about their impacts on the ground when addressing deforestation, forest degradation, carbon emissions, and improving the livelihoods of forest dependent people.
Often, potentially transformative interventions are “abandoned” prematurely and replaced by new interventions as stakeholders “learn” about limited results on the ground.
How might learning be developed that might help nurture enduring institutions capable of addressing such thorny challenges?
Planted forests’ roles: Different strokes for different oaks
Planted forests are vital but vulnerable resources that can contribute in a sustainable fashion to some of humanity’s most pressing needs – poverty alleviation, food security, renewable energy, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, and biodiversity conservation – as well as the preservation of natural forests.
These are among the findings in the recently published Summary Report of the 3rd International Congress on Planted Forests. It is based on outcomes from three scientific workshops and a plenary meeting that took place earlier this year.
Thirty-three countries have greater than 1 million hectares of planted forest area. Together these countries comprise 90% of the world’s 264 million hectares of planted forest which, in turn, equals almost 7% of the total global forest area. The report takes into account key research findings from Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, Latin America and North America related to vulnerability, viability and governance of planted forests.
Wildfire projected to spread like, well, wildfire
A recently published study: Global Wildland Fire Season Severity in the 21st Century, indicates that in coming decades, conventional approaches to wildfire management may no longer be effective.
It appears in a Forest Ecology and Management journal special issue entitled The Mega-fire reality, published by Elsevier. The study is a first global review that shows the extent of the increasing length of the fire season and the increasing fire weather severity.
Urban Park Perks’ Research Rounded Up & Rated
Green areas and parks provide many benefits to urban spaces. That’s what people have said for years – but without an awful lot of evidence to back it up.
Now there is an evidence-based report, Benefits of Urban Parks: A systematic review, offering some support to that assertion.
The recent study, one the authors believe is a first-of-its-kind, draws conclusions based on green space related research published in a number of top-level scientific publications.
It offers a comprehensive and critical assessment that evaluates the strength of the evidence supporting a series of park benefits. Read more…
Putting production from peatlands in perspective
By Palle Madsen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Coordinator of IUFRO Research Group 1.01.00 – Temperate and boreal silviculture
Policy makers and forest managers in the boreal and temperate regions now have a new tool to assist them in making climate-smart and environmentally responsible peatland forestry decisions for the future.
Persons involved in peatland management can benefit from Peatland Ecology and Forestry – a Sound Approach, a new very well-illustrated book that gathers an impressive array of research from various countries and regions. Read more…
Power, discrimination and gender equality
By Tuija Sievänen (Finnish Forest Research Institute),
Coordinator of IUFRO Division 6 – Social Aspects of Forests and Forestry
A new publication takes a long, hard look at – and dispels some of the myths about – the issue of gender equality as it relates to development and environmental governance of the forests.
The author, Seema Arora-Jonsson of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Coordinator of the IUFRO Working Party dealing with gender research in forestry, focuses on groups in India, which is widely recognized as a highly gender-biased country and in Sweden, a country seen as highly gender-equal. Read more…
For Peat’s Sake
By Björn Hånell, Coordinator, IUFRO Division 1 (SLU, Sweden), and
Jean-Michel Carnus, Coordinator, IUFRO Division 8 (INRA, France)
Forest fires are a persistent and growing problem around the world. While fire certainly produces some ecological benefits, those are arguably being outweighed by the increasing frequency, size and intensity of fires as the planet warms.
In a given year, forest and grassland fires can be extensive – burning 350- 450 million ha (an area larger than India); expensive – costing many billions of dollars to combat (in Canada alone fire management costs can reach $800 million a year); and lethal – a recent study attributed almost 340,000 deaths annually to respiratory and other causes related to the impact of forest/bush fires.
Making the situation more worrisome are predictions that these fire events could triple in the next 50-75 years.
A recent Canadian Forest Service bulletin: Peatland Fires and Carbon Emissions (Frontline Express 50 http://cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/publications?id=33351) noted that some fire researchers from Canada, the U.S. and Russia – where fire in those countries’ boreal forests is a significant activity – have begun looking more closely into boreal peatlands.
Peatland ecosystems cover only 2-3% of the earth’s land surface, but in the boreal they make up 20-30% of the forest region and average 20-30% of the area burned annually.
Those peatlands store an estimated 30% of the world’s terrestrial carbon – some 300 billion metric tons. Typically they are fairly wet areas, but when they dry and burn – usually in severe drought years or from some drainage activities – they have the potential to flip from carbon sink to carbon source as they release huge amounts of greenhouse gases.
How significant are the emissions from peatland fires? In 1997 in Indonesia peatland fires released the equivalent of 20-40% of all annual global fossil fuel emissions. And Indonesia’s peatlands are dwarfed by the peatland reserves in Canada, Alaska and Russia.
Peatland fires tend to produce a lot of smoke and can be difficult to extinguish. In the north they can continue to smoulder stubbornly beneath the winter snow and then burst into flame again in a subsequent year.
Smoke, as noted above, also makes human health a major consideration in peatland fires. Smoke is toxic to begin with, but peatlands contain about 15 times as much mercury – a serious toxin – as nearby upland forests. The mercury-laden smoke can travel far. Recently in Russia, smog permeated Moscow from peat fires many kilometers distant and, within the last few months, air quality advisories were being issued in parts of British Columbia on Canada’s west coast as smoke from Siberian peat fires pushed ozone levels to neverbefore- seen numbers.
While quite a bit is known about the function and behavior of fire in the boreal forest, much of the research there has been on upland forest areas. By comparison, much less is known about the vulnerability of boreal peatlands to fire.
One of the key areas being investigated in the boreal peatlands is focused on developing a peat moisture code. By getting a better handle on peatlands moisture content, researchers will know the potential for burning, when it might occur and how deep it will burn. That will help preparation and mitigation efforts.
A report by J.M Waddington (McMaster Centre for Climate Change, McMaster University) and colleagues suggests that such a code can be developed – with modifications to adapt to specific peat types and issues – within the framework of the existing Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) System.
The FWI System (or portions of it) has been adopted – with adaptations for local conditions – by several countries as a fire management tool: New Zealand, Fiji, Portugal, Spain and several U.S. states, among them.
There are six components to the FWI System. Three are fire behavior indices – related to rate of fire spread; available fuel; and frontal fire intensity.
The other three components, those most germane to this topic, relate to fuel moisture. They are numeric ratings of the moisture content of litter and other fine fuels; the average moisture content of loosely compacted organic layers; and the average moisture of deep, compact organic layers.
The ratings give indications of factors ranging from ease of ignition and flammability of fine fuel, to the amount of smoldering in deep duff layers and large logs.
Self Interest Can Conserve Forests
By Daniela Kleinschmit (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Products), Coordinator of IUFRO Division 9 Forest Policy and Economics
Legality verification – “Certification Lite”, so to speak – may offer the impetus for a workable system of responsible, sustainable global forest governance that previous efforts have been unable to accomplish. That’s one of several hypotheses put forward in a paper by Benjamin Cashore and Michael Stone of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Read more…
Combatting Climate Change Comprehensively
By Ben Chikamai (Kenya Forestry Research Institute)
IUFRO Board Member, Kenya
African forest policy makers and governments could benefit by using a recent study as a template to help bring climate change adaptation into the mainstream of national development strategies.
The study, conducted in two forest-dependent areas in Africa, emphasizes cross-sectoral planning – recognizing and incorporating interacting priorities, such as agriculture, health, forestry, land-use planning, water resources, energy, education, etc. – as a key element in implementing any effective climate change adaptation strategy.
Forests can play an important role in achieving climate change adaptation goals in Africa. But sustainable forest management decisions alone can’t accomplish that. Policy decisions – for forests as well as other resource areas – must complement one another. At present, impacts from some of those other sectors may actually be threatening the forests.
There are a number of pressures on Africa’s forests – agricultural expansion and forest over-use among them. Reducing non-climatic pressures, in a logical, prioritized manner, can help reduce the vulnerability of forest ecosystems. That’s crucial because many people in Africa are highly dependent on forest goods and services. Those people are, and will continue to be, particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Improving the capability of forest dependent communities to adapt to a changing climate will reduce that vulnerability.
The study: Enhancing Adaptation of Forests and People in Africa – Development of Pilot Cases for Selected Forest Ecosystems in Ghana and Malawi, examined forest issues related to climate change in selected areas of those countries. The authors, E.G. Foli and S. Makungwa, worked in those specific areas because they represent typical examples of the ecological and socio-economic situation prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, so the findings could also be applied to countries in West, Central, Southern, and parts of East, Africa.
Among other findings, the study confirmed a general trend of increasing mean annual temperatures and a decline in mean annual rainfall. In the Ghana pilot area this has resulted in forest loss due to wildfire; a decline in the availability of non-timber forest products; reductions in agricultural crop yields; and declining potable water supplies and the associated risk of water-borne diseases. In the Lake Chilwa area of Malawi, in addition to declining potable water supply and its associated disease risks, there has also been poor productivity on tree farms; loss of indigenous trees in communal areas, riverbanks and surrounding forest reserves; a decline in agricultural productivity; and declining fish catch from the lake.
While the study noted how changing climatic conditions can adversely affect livelihoods, health and food security in those communities, it also noted examples of locally initiated adaptation strategies developed to mitigate the impacts of the changing climate. By compiling existing information, including the needs of stakeholders in the various inter-related resource areas, consulting with local communities and assessing and evaluating each project site, enhanced and concrete adaptation measures for the pilot areas were developed.
Then, a priority setting exercise was carried out to identify appropriate and relevant adaptation strategies and activities that would best serve the communities. Similar techniques could be used across a much wider area, the authors say, but that will require political will, financial commitment, and an integrated multi-sectoral – even trans-national – approach. It’s a challenge, they agree, but one that must be faced.
The full study can be found at: http://www.fornis.net/content/enhancing-adaptation-forests-and-people-africa-development-pilot-cases-selected-forest-ecosy