Challenges facing Protective Forests
Forests, including those with a protective function, are constantly in a process of movement and dynamic development. Disturbances frequently lead to damages, wild animals have an influence on the forest stand as well.
Protective forests are dynamic in their behavior therefore many challenges are always present. On many sites new trees are rare and increased game populations may hinder an undisturbed development.
The Austrian Climate Change Status Report 2014 (AAR2014) recorded an increase in the average annual temperature of around 2°C since 1880.
The impacts affect also protective forests. An appropriate strategy and suitable measures must be worked out to ensure that forests can provide their protective functions also in a changed climate.
Due to the increasing number of extreme events, the importance of natural hazards and protective forests in Austria is growing. Many different processes threaten our living and economic space. Floods, mudflows, avalanches, rockfalls and landslides can severely damage or even destroy settlements, infrastructure facilities or economic assets. In extreme cases people's lives and health are also seriously endangered.
A structurally diverse forest stand is particularly important in protective forests. Ideally new trees should be able to establish themselves through natural regeneration; afforestation may be required if the appropriate mix of tree species needs to be selected, depending on the protection objective and the natural hazard process. This guarantees a sustainable protection effect.
Climate change will have serious effects on forests in Austria. Increased periods of drought and higher temperatures can lead to an increased risk of forest fires in Austria. An increase of forest fires can impair the protective function of forests.
Stable well-structured and climate-fit protective forests require active management and tending of the areas. Protective forest areas are often located in places that are hard to access where profitable forest management is impossible.
Moreover, due to the unfavourable development of timber prices in recent years, many forest areas are no longer being managed and are therefore losing stability.
© BMNT/Huber Petra
In previous decades the use of the natural environment in Austria by its people has changed and in many places it has been intensified. The variety of recreational activities and tourism have increased especially in alpine areas. This partly affects sensitive ecosystems as well as important work in the forestry segment.
Other human factors influencing the protective forest are for example emissions or agricultural activities.