Landscapes can reflect a living fusion of people, culture and nature. Forests are an integral and crucial part of Europe’s vast, complex and extremely diverse landscapes. They provide an intricate and dynamic setting of people’s lives and offer an astonishingly diverse basket of ecosystem services. This delicate communion between people and nature also means that there is much at stake. Decisions and forest-related policies made at a macro level have immediate impacts on a local level.
There are many, differently opinionated stakeholders, with diverse visions and understandings about how our forests should be managed in the future. But how do we succeed to integrate all these different perspectives, options and visions in such a holistic landscape setting? How should we manage our forests in a truly sustainable manner that is fair and inclusive towards all stakeholders involved?
The issue at stake
Before we try answering these questions, try to imagine the multifaceted complexity of Europe, with all its member states, different socio-cultural and economic realities and diversity of forest ecosystems (Mediterranean, Boreal, Temperate, and Atlantic forest ecosystems). Indeed, all these crucial environmental and socio-economic roles of forests are widely acknowledged in the EU. Nevertheless, there are critical incoherencies between the different EU forest-related policies. There are also many implementation challenges of each of these policies. Such issues can affect the whole approach of forest management, have a direct impact on stakeholders and risk generating conflicts on the landscape level. Now try to imagine that someone would try to take on this daunting task of trying to integrate all these different policies, and bring all different voices together to agree and design a common desired future for our forested landscapes…
The INTEGRAL project
This was the ambitious goal that the INTEGRAL Project set to achieve. It endeavored to provide a new policy and management approach, which takes into consideration the sensitive issues of ecology, socio-economy and policy and is able to integrate different policies and demands on forests. Funded by EU’s FP7 Research and Innovation programme, INTEGRAL started four years ago by bringing together a multitude of stakeholders (researchers, forest owners, national experts, local and national authorities, industry representatives, civil society representatives, decision makers etc.) from twenty landscape case-study areas from ten different European countries.
Researchers and experts from these countries carried out their investigation in three main phases: in the first phase, social and natural scientists mapped out and analyzed the key social, ecological and technical factors in the 20 different case-study areas throughout Europe. The second phase included participatory scenario development that involved the identified key actors into the planning process. The work in this phase set out to explore what different forest-related developments might unfold in Europe during the next 25-30 years and what these developments would mean for integrated forest management and the provision of different ecosystem services. Each developed scenario was then translated into one specific management regime with the aim of integrating the different policy options in forest management tools. Finally, during the third phase, researchers and stakeholders conducted a back-casting process for each scenario in order to identify implementable policy instruments and policy options that are “robust” in any of the explored future scenarios.
What have we achieved?
After long and fruitful discussions during workshops, and thorough data analysis, researchers and stakeholders have managed to produce a variety of interesting possible scenarios for the future management of our forested landscapes. Results show that the supply of all forest ecosystem goods and services across Europe is expected to increase. Hence, the importance of the European forest sector and the growing societal claims for diverse forest ecosystem goods and services is likely to intensify in the future. This suggests an ever-growing need for a pro-active policy and management approach to manage trade-offs and strike a balance between timber production, biodiversity conservation, climate regulation, soil and water protection, and recreation. This will be crucial for a truly sustainable European bioeconomy to be realized.
The final INTEGRAL conference held in June 2015 in Brussels, Belgium, brought together some 110 participants from more than 15 countries. Here, researchers had the chance to present results and discuss their most relevant findings with national and European stakeholders. Together, they shared knowledge, experiences and solutions. Finally, participants tried to provide policy relevant recommendations to support sustainable and multifunctional forest management. But perhaps the most important achievement was that stakeholder’s voices were heard through a truly participatory process. Stakeholders were provided with an open and inclusive platform for discussion where their message could be directly transmitted to EU experts and policy makers.
The way forward…
Our findings brought us one step closer to designing effective management strategies at the landscape level and decision support tools for future-oriented and integrated forest management. It became clear that in order to manage challenges related to contradictory policies and instruments concerning European forest policies, policy integration is crucial. There is an clear need to better connect the participatory decision-making processes on the sub-national level of landscapes with forest-relevant policy-making processes on national and European levels, and vice versa. INTEGRAL made an important first step in this direction… the work continues.
INTEGRAL Project Coordinator: Ola Eriksson ; ola.eriksson(at)srh.slu.se
INTEGRAL Scientific Coordinator and responsible for Policy-Science-Interface: Dr. Metodi Sotirov, metodi.sotirov(at)ifp.uni-freiburg.de
Picture: The scenario describes a future were the global society has joined forces trying to combat climate change and its effects on the environment. Policy measures and a strong environmental commitment in society as a whole have facilitated the use of renewable wind- and solar energy. In forestry are goals for carbon sequestration as well as for the protection of biodiversity enforced.
Picture Credit: Charlotta Gard
Blogpost and photo submitted by Alexandru Giurca (Forest and Environmental Policy Group – University of Freiburg, Germany) – alexandru.giurca(at)ifp.uni-freiburg.de
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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