For Peat’s Sake
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Wildfire in Alberta, Canada 2011. Photo by Stephanie Koroscil
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.
Wildfire in Alberta, Canada 2011. Photo by Stephanie Koroscil
IUCN has launched a campaign, « Plant a Pledge » , and is asking readers to sign the petition at www.plantapledge.com. It takes just a minute of your time!
IUCN is hoping that you will help the campaign by reaching out as widely as possible, by helping to promote the campaign through your networks, through publicising it through the web, social media, presentations and word of mouth.
Plant a Pledge – www.plantapledge.com – is an opportunity for the global public to tell world leaders and land owners that they support the goal to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands by the year 2020. The goal is an implementation vehicle for achieving CBD Aichi Target 15 and has become known as the “Bonn Challenge” after it was launched in Bonn, Germany, in September 2011.
The Bonn Challenge target to restore 150 million hectares by 2020 came second when over 1 million people took part in the on-line public Rio Dialogue vote for the most important global recommendation during the recent UN summit in Brazil, “Rio+20”.
Restoring 150 million hectares would inject billions of new dollars into economies every year, and would significantly help mitigate climate change, boost biodiversity and reduce poverty.
The Plant a Pledge petition will gather the signatures from people across the globe, and will be personally delivered by our Ambassador Bianca Jagger to senior delegates at an upcoming high level international meeting, urging land owners and governments to dedicate land to landscape restoration.
Help gather enough signatures to really turn the heads of those leaders and convince them to commit to the Bonn Challenge.
The website www.plantapledge.com will give you lots more information on the campaign and on forest landscape restoration.
Please go there now and sign the petition and urge all your friends, contacts and networks to do the same, by forwarding this message, and ideally also by sharing it through other means.
If you have time to explore the site, you might like to watch the videos, explore the interactive restoration globe, read the case studies and learn more about the issue and the campaign.
Other things you can do to support this important campaign are:
– follow the campaign on twitter: http://twitter.com/PlantAPledge
– ‘like’ the campaign on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/plantapledge
– Tell all your friends, colleagues and networks and ask them to sign, too!
Thank you for your support!
During 4 weeks in July, three young students worked at IUFRO Headquarters to get a taste of work in an office. Here is their report:
Summer students Moritz, Julian and Jonathan in front of the mobile IUFRO World Congress 2014 booth
When you work for IUFRO, you have to be prepared for a wide range of different tasks such as setting up a filing system, sorting notes or getting the mail. One of the most exciting assignments we got was to prepare a draft on how to improve and reorganize the IUFRO webpage according to our own vision. The three of us put together our ideas and debated how the webpage could be changed in order to be more attractive to users not familiar with IUFRO, and still be easy for all users to operate with.
IUFRO Headquarters is a very nice place to work at. While there is a lot of work to be done, the atmosphere is pleasant and relaxed. Everyone is very cooperative and helpful. In our work, we did not have to worry about time pressure, but were encouraged to finish all our tasks properly.
Since the members of IUFRO Headquarters were very busy with their usual tasks, such as doing the finances, organizing meetings, writing reports or minutes, they were highly pleased that we took over extra tasks for them and so facilitated their work.
We learned much: not only about the work of IUFRO and its member organizations, but also about the functioning and logistics of a big association, like IUFRO, and its headquarters. The time here at IUFRO was a highly informative and instructive, as we learned to work within a group, but at the same time independently. And we now have an idea what it is like to work in an office of an international association.
Jonathan Kleine, Julian Koch, Moritz Wildburger
Photo: IUFRO Headquarters
Self Interest Can Conserve Forests
PDF for download
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…
Joseph Cobbinah reads allowed The Nairobi Resolution
“Forest and Trees: Serving the People of Africa and the World” was a fitting theme for the 1st IUFRO-FORNESSA Regional Congress & ITTO/AFF Forest Policy Day held at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya June 25-29. The closing ceremony held late Friday afternoon after the last of the Scientific Sessions adjourned, brought reflections of the week and outlined the importance it had for the region and its people.
Adopted from the discussions and the sessions held throughout the week, The Nairobi Resolution was read allowed to the 350+ scientists, policymakers, and forest stakeholders in attendance at the Congress. The resolution which comes a week after the Rio+20 Sustainable Dialogue on forests reinforces the commitment of African countries to “promote science, technology, innovation and traditional knowledge in order to face forests main challenge: how to turn them productive without destroying them”.
The participants of the Congress voiced 7 commitments for the future:
- Adopt people-centred approaches for forest research and education focusing on environmental, social and economic pillars;
- Further expand the scope of forest research, training and education to address issues relevant to global sustainability including land use, livelihoods and environment issues;
- Increase information sharing and knowledge management through fostering regional cooperation and networking in African forest research and providing opportunities for scientists to contribute to global issues;
- Combine traditional knowledge with formal scientific research results to design forest and tree management systems to meet local and broader societal needs at varying spatial scales;
- Develop reward systems for successful uptake and adoption of research outputs and build impact analysis in the research project design;
- Invest in science-society communication, including the training on effective communication of research findings, to improve the impact of research for all beneficiaries and improve the link between research, policy and practice; and
- Provide effective platforms for engagement of scientists, policy makers and stakeholders through national, sub-regional and regional mechanisms.
In a region that faces many obstacles using forest and trees to meet local livelihood needs while ensuring a biodiverse and environmentally sustainable landscape the resolution outlines an optimistic future for Africa – it’s forests, it’s trees and it’s people.
Read The Nairobi Resolution in its entirety at https://www.fornis.net/content/nairobi-resolution.
PDF at http://www.iufro.org/download/file/8798/3684/regcong-africa12-congress-resolution_pdf/
The IUFRO/FORNESSA Congress brought together over 300 participants from 50 plus countries – 40 of those African. For many of the participants it was the largest gathering focused on forest issues they have ever attended. With a wealth of sessions to choose from, participants were able to interact with others doing research not only in their own area but complimentary ones as well.
Participant gives voice to a question during ITTO/AFF Forest Policy Day
With the rooms full of expertise the sessions never seemed long enough, as questions, comments and discussion were bountiful. During the panel discussion of the ITTO/AFF Forest Policy Day that ran all day June 28th, a very insightful observation was stated – the knowledge sharing which happens during these events brings the level of expertise up for individuals quicker than any other means and not only does it raise the expertise level of the individual it positively affects the collective regions level. It is only in these open forums where one gains a clear picture of what and how research is being done in neighbouring countries.
Many of the younger attendees were awed at being able to meet and share their research with foremost leaders in topics and gain valuable critique and insight that is an opportunity they would not have been granted otherwise.
Congress goers have one day remaining before they head back to their respective countries and they will be bring back a souvenir which will last a lifetime – shared knowledge and improved understanding of the issues Africa’s forests, trees and people face.
A hundred discussions during coffee break
After a morning of sessions filled with discussions the Congress goers donned their field clothes and headed out for an afternoon in the forest.
IUFRO President Niels Elers Koch and a representative from the Friends of Karura Forest plant a tree together.
Karura Forest, the renowned urban forest in Nairobi was the destination of the in-Congress tour for the participants. The forest became internationally famous and a crowning achievement for conservationists in the late 90’s. There was huge pressure to clear the forest and create housing projects and the conservation community led by the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai carried out a large public campaign to save the forest. The forest will forever be seen as a symbol of success and serve as a reminder of what a community can do when they come together to challenge land grads.
The excursion started off with a ceremonial tree planting which saw trees being planted by FORNESSA Coordinator Joseph Cobbinah and IUFRO President Niels Elers Koch with representatives from the Friends of Karura Forest – a community forest association dedicated to protecting the urban forest.
Amidst constant conversation the excursion led the large group of participants by trail to the Mau Mau Caves. As the participants continued their hike underneath the canopy of the forest they were greeted by the growing sound of music. Following the river to the waterfall an enthusiastic Kenyan choir lining the waterfall performing a traditional song and dance greeted the excursionists.
Kenyan Choir performing under the Canopy of Karura Forest
The end of the in-Congress tour also marked the end of a successful second day. Thursday is the ITTO/AFF Forest Policy Day and will see participants change their field clothes for more formal wear and head back to sessions to continue presenting and discussing their research. In the words of John, a soil scientist from Nigeria, “Tomorrow I look forward to very much, I will get to tell everyone about my research and then they will know what we have been doing and they will learn from us.”
Additional coverage at http://www.iisd.ca/ymb/forest/iufrofornessa/c1/.
Participants during the opening Plenary Session: Landscape Approaches to Future Forest and Tree Resources
The IUFRO/FORNESSA Regional Congress kicked off at the diverse and scenic World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya yesterday. This event which runs from the 25th -29th June marks the first Regional Congress in Africa, providing the opportunity for experts focused on Sub-Saharan African forest issues to come together to share and discuss the hot topics surrounding the region’s forests and trees.
The Congress opened with traditional Kenyan singers who performed for the over 300 participants coming from 40 plus African counties and over 50 countries worldwide – the largest gathering of forest experts Africa has ever seen.
The Congress is organized under the theme “Forests and Trees: Serving the People of Africa and the World” and highlights research under the following 6 themes:
1 – Forests and Climate Change
2 – Forests and Water
3 – Forest Policy, Governance and Trade
4 – Forest Biodiversity and Conservation
5 – Agro-forestry, Energy and Food Security
6 – Education, Training and Institutional Capacity Building
Integrated into the Congress is the ITTO/AFF Policy Day taking place on Thursday, June 28th, which focuses on the policy and science interface for sustainable forest management in Africa.
Scientific cooperation plays an important role in the future of African forest science and research and this premiere event serves to act as a catalyst of growth for the FORNESSA network by bridging the geographical barriers and bringing together scientists, researchers, forest managers and policy makers face-to-face- to discuss with their peers issues of paramount importance.
For official coverage of the Congress & photos from the day visit the IISD reporting services homepage at http://www.iisd.ca/ymb/forest/iufrofornessa/c1/.
Combatting Climate Change Comprehensively
By Ben Chikamai (Kenya Forestry Research Institute)
IUFRO Board Member, Kenya
PDF for download
Degraded forest landscape in the Offinso District, Ghana. The original high forest cover has been modified through over-exploitation of wood resources, agriculture activities, and establishment of human settlements. (Photo by Ernest Foli, FORNESSA)
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
Coordinator, IUFRO Working Party on Community Forestry (9.05.06)
PDF of full paper for download
Forests are the major source of our ecosystem services that the society avails for its sustenance and healthy growth. Forestry thus has continued to have a very complex and large social dimension with a number of interfaces between forest and society. These interfaces range from exploitation to protection & conservation. They form the key to an interdisciplinary approach between forestry sciences and social sciences, and create the potential for a mutual collaboration between the two. Read more…