Topical collection: Forest Adaptation and Restoration under Global Change
High-elevation forests in the Alps protect infrastructure and human lives against natural hazards such as rockfall, flooding, and avalanches. Routinely performed silvicultural interventions maintain the required stand structure but are not commercially viable in remote forests due to high operational costs. Financial subsidies for the management of high-elevation protection forests are an efficient strategy to ensure sustainable forest cover.
Context Presently, many high-elevation forests in the Alps are managed in order to ensure the provision of ecosystem services with emphasis on the minimization of natural hazards.
Aims We studied the possible economic performance of a high-elevation protection forest from an owner’s perspective. We investigated whether the increase in productivity due to climate change and a favorable market for the dominating cembran pine (Pinus cembra L.) are sufficient for profitable timber production in protection forests.
Methods We simulated the standing timber stock and the soil carbon pool for a 100-year period with climate-sensitive models and compared harvesting costs with expected revenues. Our scenarios included different climates, intensities of timber extractions, parameters of the timber market, and the availability of government subsidies.
Results Overall, the productivity of forests increases by approximately 15% until the end of the century. In a zero-management scenario, the forest accumulates carbon both in the aboveground biomass and the soil. In the case of an extensive management with moderate timber extractions every 50 years, the carbon stocks decline both in biomass and soil. A more intensive management scenario with extractions every 30 years leads to substantial losses of the soil and biomass carbon pools. In addition, the stand structure changes and the protective function of the forest is not sustainably ensured. Timber production can be economically successful only with high selling prices of cembran pine timber and the availability of governmental subsidies for forest management. The admixed European larch (Larix decidua Mill.) contributes only marginally to the economic success. The main challenge are harvesting costs. The costs of timber extraction by a long-distance cableway logging system exceed the value of the harvested timber.
Conclusion The intensification of forest management cannot be recommended from the perspective of timber production, sustainable forest management, and protection against natural hazards. Our simulation experiment shows that the extraction of timber at decadal intervals depletes the carbon stock that is insufficiently replenished from aboveground and belowground litterfall. Leaving the forest unmanaged does not impose a particular threat to stand stability and is under the encountered situation, a justified strategy.
Growth modeling, Soil carbon pool, Climate change, Mountain forest, Forest management costs
Open Access Publication
Jandl, N., Jandl, R. & Schindlbacher, A. Annals of Forest Science (2018) 75: 81.
The datasets generated during the current study are available in the CCCA Data Centre repository, [PID: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11756/0563079a], (Jandl et al. 2018).