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Forests, sustainable management and payment schemes for ecosystem services

EU guidelines for national regulatory frameworks

Forests, sustainable management and payment schemes for ecosystem services

Forests, sustainable management and payment schemes for ecosystem services

In recent months, the European Commission has presented two documents aimed at orienting the national regulatory frameworks in the sector.

The forestry heritage and the sector are increasingly at the center of attention of the various European policies which make up a rich and complex framework of regulations, directives, orientations and guidelines, not always easy to reduce to a coherent and coordinated set of actions. In this context, the European Commission has presented an interesting innovation in recent months.

These are two new guidelines for national regulatory frameworks, aimed at incentivizing and rewarding sustainable forestry practices, in order to provide a useful and user-friendly source of information to help public and private bodies, as well as forest owners and managers , to develop and implement payment schemes for forest ecosystem services.

  • Closer to nature guidelines (Brussels, 27.7.2023 SWD(2023) 284 final): aimed at strengthening the multifunctionality of forests and resilience to climate change, while promoting long-term economic and social benefits.
  • “Guidelines on payment schemes for forest ecosystem services” (Brussels, 27.7.2023 SWD(2023) 285 final): aimed at presenting ways in which foresters and land managers can derive monetary benefits from the provision of different ecosystem services.
These guidelines, as key outcomes of the Communication "New European Forestry Strategy 2030" (COM 2021) 572 final, published on 16 July 2021 by the Commission, have been developed through an active dialogue with Member State experts and stakeholders and are based on a collaborative approach.

The new European Forestry Strategy pays particular attention to the role of Sustainable Forest Management (GFS) and the multifunctionality of forests, intersecting and contributing to the objectives of the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (COM(2020)380) and the Farm to Fork strategy ( COM(2020) 381).

The new guidelines are therefore born from the need, highlighted in the European Forestry and Biodiversity Strategies, to conserve and increase the biological diversity of European forest ecosystems and recognize the ecosystem services generated by sustainable forest management.

"Closer to nature" guidelines

The published work starts from the consideration that centuries-old human action has strongly shaped the composition, species diversity and structural complexity of European forests. Today, 75% of European forests have a uniform age and 1/3 of these consist of a single species, while 50% are limited to the presence of only 2 or 3 species.

The "closer to nature" guidelines propose a "closer to nature" approach as a determining factor for forest resilience and adaptive capacity, promoting forms of forest management aimed at enhancing natural dynamics and increasing their structural complexity, to obtain more heterogeneous and diversified forests.

The scientific assumption on which the "closer to nature" approach is based is that according to which forests composed of different tree species, age classes and life cycle phases are more resilient and adaptable to climate changes and disturbances than forests. monocultures of uniform age, which do not support forest functions, ecosystem services and long-term forest productivity. In the past this concept has already been widely debated and codified in the discipline we know as "close to nature forestry".

This approach, scientifically widely known and applied in Italy since 1996 thanks to the "Pro Silva Italia" project, therefore aims to promote crop management that favors the natural dynamics of the forest, attempting to achieve the desired objectives with the minimum human intervention necessary to accelerate the processes that nature would do on its own over longer periods of time.

The European guidelines are based on the scientific principles of the "closer to nature" approach and express themselves on the maintenance of biodiversity, sustainable forest management and the ecological role of the forest in landscape management, using concepts such as natural renewal, biodiversity, sustainability, multifunctionality of the forest, use and use of native and non-native species in forestry.

An "elastic" approach is therefore proposed on the interventions and uses that are carried out in the forest, in relation to their conservation, i.e. flexible in the choice of cultivation techniques which can and must be different depending on the case, starting from an adequate knowledge of the characteristics of the individual forest. Among the recommended practices, we can mention:
  • the choices in the frequency and intensity of thinning of the forest are proportional for the purposes of protecting biodiversity and preventing forest fires,
  • the implementation of silvicultural operations to always be carried out in such a way as to avoid compacting the soil or damaging the trees that will remain standing;
  • the use in reforestation of native species compatible with the ecological characteristics of the places, allowing the introduction of external species if they bring undoubted qualitative and quantitative advantages;
  • silvicultural interventions linked to the management of domestic and wild herbivorous fauna, with interventions to avoid grazing during the regeneration phase.
The link with economic aspects is of no small importance, since by requiring less human intervention, forestry "close to nature" has significantly lower labor costs, and potentially better quality wood products and assortments.

Theoretically, if applied correctly, naturalistic silviculture would even make the division of forest land into "productive lands" and "reserves" or national parks superfluous.
The hope of the guidelines is that of a voluntary transposition into national legislative frameworks of these principles (already widely present in Italian national and regional legislation), but above all that the owners and those responsible in various capacities for the management of forest properties can recognize what is proposed by committing to take these principles into consideration and to try to make them concretely applicable to the forestry realities in which they operate.

Without a shadow of a doubt, forest management closer to nature also offers the opportunity to exploit the broader economic potential of forests beyond timber provisions. In addition to wood and non-wood materials and products, forests provide valuable ecosystem services, such as habitats for biodiversity, water purification, flood protection and climate regulation.

Furthermore, carbon sequestration and non-timber forest products, such as honey, mushrooms or bushmeat are marketable sources of income. In this regard, with the guide to payment schemes for forest ecosystem services, an alternative option is promoted to provide income through sustainable and multifunctional forest management. Indeed, forests not only provide renewable materials and wood and non-wood products, but also many other indispensable services to conserve biodiversity, fight climate change, transition towards a circular bioeconomy and support a healthy society.

Guidelines on payment schemes for forest ecosystem services

Despite the actual value and growing demand for forest ecosystem services, wood production remains the main, if not the only, source of income for forest owners and managers.
Financial rewards or profits from other ecosystem services are very limited and difficult to quantify. With this voluntary guidance document, the Commission therefore aims to provide information and advice that helps public bodies, private owners and forest managers to develop and implement payment systems for forest ecosystem services.

The drafting of this guide is aimed precisely at forest owners and managers who need financial stimuli and incentives to be able to provide ecosystem services in addition to wood and non-wood materials and products. The economic viability of the EU forestry sector remains a key pillar of sustainable forest management.

Furthermore, economic profitability is of crucial importance to maintain the multiple benefits that forests provide to society and, in particular, to ensure the livelihoods of rural populations. Public and private payments for forest ecosystem services represent an alternative option to secure financial sources for the multifunctional and protective management of forests and for the sustainable maintenance of ecosystem services.

Obviously the availability and diversity of ecosystem services depend on the conditions of the ecosystem in question. Humans interact dynamically with ecosystems, and the changes they cause in ecosystems and the services they provide can affect human well-being. The greater the pressure on ecosystems, the more limited the services they provide. The Common International Classification System of Ecosystem Services (CICES) classifies ecosystem services into three main categories: supplying, regulation and maintenance culture.

Ecosystem services can be evaluated both in physical terms and in terms of economic value.

Physical assessment is based on biophysical models of ecosystem services that consider the functions and processing of ecosystems to provide the service in question.

The economic evaluation is based on economic and/or socio-economic models that reveal the value of the service in question in monetary and non-monetary terms.

There is therefore a wide range of approaches and methodologies available for the evaluation of ecosystem services, which should be selected based on a preliminary analysis.
Ecosystem services provide a wide range of benefits to specific economic sectors and to society at large. For this reason, society and individuals value ecosystem services to express recognition of their role and importance. Valuation can be expressed in multiple ways, the so-called value pluralism of ecosystems and ecosystem services, which is comprehensively explained in the approach of the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Values are analyzed in many different ways, depending on the scientific context (e.g., biophysical, social, or economic sciences). The European guide focuses on economic evaluation methods. This document appropriately enters the national context at a time when the debate on the recognition of ecosystem services generated by sustainable forest management has never been so open and contradictory. It is hoped that it can be used to collect useful ideas and proposals for the national forestry and management context. (Source: Raoul Romano, https://www.pianetapsr.it/)

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