Human factor

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.

Human impacts in the protective forest ecosystem

In most cases the growing demands of humans on the habitats of wild animals inevitably cause disturbance to the animals. Encounters often occur at places that are important to the animals for example in breeding, rearing, food and retreat areas.

Disturbance can also have a negative impact on forest regeneration. Where animals retreat increasingly into the forest their impact on young trees may aggravate. The establishment of wildlife rest areas is a successful instrument for improving the quality of wildlife habitats.

In addition emissions from human activities affect protective forests. In Austria the air pollutants ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen or acid and sulphur inputs as well as locally hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride, ammonia and heavy metal inputs affect forests to different extents. Measurements of bioindication, air pollutants and deposition show that despite significantly reduced emission forests are still subject to stress.

The protective function of forests is of great relevance also for tourism and tourism-related leisure activities. An intact natural environment and landscape is an important competitive advantage and a basis of the hotel and catering industry. The regions with the highest tourism intensity are often located in alpine regions and in fragile ecosystems.

Especially in centres of tourism and ecologically sensitive natural environments overuse of natural resources may occur which can have an adverse impact on the protective effect of forests. Substantial areas have been sealed by the construction of tourist infrastructure facilities such as hotels, parking lots and ponds for the production of artificial snow. Sometimes the areas are homogenised through to measures that are driven by tourism (e.g. by the levelling of skiing slopes). Leisure-time activities can cause disturbances of wildlife and lead to the construction and expansion of infrastructure measures.

Therefore it is important to get an overall Picture, thinking protective forests and tourism together and to pay particular attention to ecologically sensitive areas.

One possible future measure is the participatory definition of natural and climatic boundaries for tourism infrastructure based on regionally differentiated biodiversity models and the adaptation of expansion projects to this planning.