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    Living with windstorms in pan-European forests

    The Forest Research Institute Baden-Württemberg (FVA), the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape (WSL), and FOREST EUROPE recently organized a three-day workshop in order to exchange on the recent experiences with windstorm damage in forests across Europe the consequences and updates on management strategies (see programme here).

    This workshop, “Living with storms – towards resilience and adaptation to forest disturbances,” is part of FOREST EUROPE’s work towards the implementation of a pan-European Forest Risk Facility (FoRISK) to support forest adaptation to changing climatic and site conditions as well as to enhance the resilience and mitigation potential of forests at a pan-European level. For further details and material, please also visit FoRISK’s website.

    During the workshop, experts from 15 countries had the chance to become part of a network, establish strong partnerships across pan-Europe that will help to prevent and better control future disturbances caused by storm events.

    Lessons learned: How to mitigate windstorm damage on European forests?

    While windstorms are rare events, damage caused by storms occurs suddenly and is measured by the volume of damaged timber; storms are considered the most devastating disturbance factor for forests.

    Compared to most other risk factors in the forest, large-scale windthrows and wind breakages also have some special characteristics:

    • Windstorms not only create highly concentrated accumulations of large volumes of wood but also represent a high risk of injury and accidents for forest workers.
    • In addition, the effects of storms often extend beyond the forested areas and can also impair infrastructure (roads and energy supply) and, therefore, require close coordination with civil protection measures.
    • Since windstorms are rare and rarely hit the same region twice (fortunately), experience and empirical knowledge may be missing in such situations.

    Some of the solutions presented include:

    • Mitigating the risk for storm damage in forests by proactive sustainable forest management and improving forest resilience, including e.g., promoting mixed forest stands, improving individual (needle) tree stability by thinning measures, or active top height limitation.
    • Development of comprehensive national and regional crisis management plans, including measures for prevention, preparedness, response and recovery, and creating the legal framework for implementing these concepts already before the next storm event.
    • Inclusive stakeholder dialogue to raise awareness and create acceptance for storm adaptive measures in forest management.
    • Asking for help by establishing and maintaining long-term cooperation across country borders and regions.

    For more detailed recommendations, read here our policy brief on the topic.

    Building a vision for cooperation and networking in the field of risk and crisis management across Europe:

    It cannot be stressed enough that extreme weather events will inevitably become more frequent and severe in the near future due to climate change. As a consequence the damage in Europe’s forests will exacerbate with a negative impact on the economy, society, for the environment, and nature. Therefore, already today, policy and practice have to prepare for these uncertainties in future forests and adapt management strategies.

    Climate change will lead to new, unprecedented damage situations or cause damage in yet unaffected areas and disturbances will not halt at country borders. Networking across countries will be of even greater importance for crisis management. However, today still numerous information and collaboration gaps exist across borders but also between forest-related sectors, e.g., at the science-policy-practice interface. During the workshop, success factors at national and international levels have been identified to overcome these gaps.

    At national level, it all starts with the definition of a common goal across sectors and the identification and involvement of all relevant actors and stakeholders (individuals or organizations). This also includes the development of communication strategies tailored to the specific needs of different actors. Shared leadership will secure a strong sense of co-responsibility. At international level, regular engagement in cooperation is needed to maintain contacts and renew networks also at times of no crisis. Structural stability and long-term solutions are necessary for effective and efficient pan-European disaster risk management.

    For a more detailed analysis of the success factors, read our policy brief on the topic (soon available).

    A future FoRISK could fulfill these tasks and would oversee events and developments of regional, national and pan-European importance, keep information flowing, act as a first entry point for new and existing partners and connect the networks at national and pan-European levels. The signatories and observers of FOREST EUROPE strongly support the full-scale launch of the Forest Risk Facility during the 9th Ministerial Conference in Bonn in 2024. Currently, a Ministerial decision for the set-up of FoRISK and a technical annex describing the Terms of Reference of FoRISK, including the future working modalities (administrative set-up and funding structure) in more detail, are under development.

    From FOREST EUROPE, we would like to thank all participants, co-organizers, and all involved speakers for their support and valuable insights provided.