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.

Wildlife in the protective forests

As the Austrian Forest Inventory and Game Influence Monitoring show there is less natural rejuvention in protective forests than in forests with a strong productive function. A common reason for that are excessive levels of game which sometimes cause damage to the trees. Peeling and browsing damage can affect tree growth.

In overaged stands with few or no young new trees there is a risk of a decreased protective effect.

Regionally high levels of wildlife influence especially in protective forests (more information under Rechnungshofbericht, BFW Game Impact Monitoring, Forest Inventory), are a threat to stability and resilience.

In some areas the maintenance and regeneration of protective forests appear to be threatened or limited. According to the Austria-wide Game Influence Monitoring about 70 percent of all regrowing trees in protective forests are affected by adverse impacts of game/wildlife. Browsing and bark-peeling lead to a lack of young trees. The forest and hunting sectors increasingly agree as regards the need for action and useful approaches. The implementation of sustainable concepts requires consistent wildlife management also across hunting territories.

Protective forests are often located in steep areas that are difficult to access and therefore also represent important reserves and refugial areas for game. In these protective forest areas often site-protective forests targeted and future-oriented afforestation, tending and management measures are indispensable to stabilise the protective effect.

Hunting influences the level and structure of wildlife populations and therefore also their ecosystems. Optimal hunting requires coordination with other user groups such as agriculture and forestry, transport and housing, tourism and nature conservation. Excessive game impact prevents the desired regeneration of forests and reduces the protection against natural hazards. Regional studies prove that hunters increasingly accept their responsibility with respect to a balance of forests and wildlife and thereby contribute to the required trend reversal in the impact of game. The annual figures on the Austrian Forest & Hunting Dialogue evidence these important common steps.

One big problem is the selective browsing by cloven-hoofed game which, instead of a climate-fit mixed tree species composition, allows only certain species to grow. In some mountain regions for example fir can hardly grow as a result of high game pressure.

The Austrian Forest Dialogue addresses topics of relevance to forests and game so in 2012 the Austrian Forst & Jagd Dialog (Forest & Hunting Dialogue) was launched. The “Principles, Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Hunting” were developed in a participatory process and provide an important general basis. In 2012 the representatives of the provincial hunting associations and the forestry sector signed the “Mariazell Declaration”. Its objective is that in general the regeneration of the tree species typical of a site can take place according to the natural potential. Protective forests are taken into account as a priority topic.

The Austrian Forest Inventory (ÖWI) and the Game Impact Monitoring (WEM) deliver crucial results for future problem-solving strategies. Science provides support in the development of methods to establish future types of hunting management optimally for forests and in particular for the sustainable protective effect.

The cooperation with Austrian hunters and locally adapted schemes are important to minimise the adverse impacts of game.

The action programme "Forests protect us!" defines a few milestones that are of relevance: These include:

  • Close strategic cooperation with the Forst & Jagd Dialog
  • Consideration of concepts about wildlife ecology and wildlife management in protective forests. The findings from earlier scientific and practical work and studies are used and implemented.
  • An Austria-wide project for the establishment of wildlife rest areas in winter with a prohibition of entry in accordance with wildlife-ecological land-use planning
  • A pilot project to monitor the success of hunting management actions in protective forests and
  • A further training programme in forestry and hunting focusing on protective forests.