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Timber mobilization and habitat tree retention in low-elevation mixed forests in Switzerland: an inventory-based scenario analysis of opportunities and constraints

Temperli, Christian, Stadelmann, Golo, Thürig, Esther, Brang, Peter
European journal of forest research 2017 v.136 no.4 pp. 711-725
altitude, climate change, conifers, ecosystem services, energy, energy content, forest ecosystems, forest inventory, forest policy, forests, habitats, harvesting, logging, models, national forests, risk, softwood, timber production, trees, Central European region, Switzerland
Timber use in central Europe is expected to increase in the future, in line with forest policy goals to strengthen local wood supply for CO₂-neutral energy production, construction and other uses. Growing stocks in low-elevation forests in Switzerland are currently high as exemplified by the Swiss canton of Aargau, for which an average volume of 346 ± 16 m³ ha⁻¹ was measured in the 3rd Swiss National forest inventory (NFI) in 2004–2006. While this may justify a reduction of growing stocks through increased timber harvesting, we asked whether such a strategy may conflict with the sustainability of timber production and conservation goals. We evaluated a range of operationally relevant forest management scenarios that varied with respect to rotation length, growing stock targets and the promotion of conifers in the regeneration. The scenarios aimed at increased production of softwood, energy wood, the retention of potential habitat trees (PHTs) and the conversion to a continuous cover management system. They were used to drive the inventory-based forest simulator MASSIMO for 100 years starting in 2007 using the NFI sampling plots in Aargau. We analyzed model outputs with respect to projected future growing stock, growth, timber and energy yield and harvesting costs. We found growing stock to drop to 192 m³ ha⁻¹ in 2106 if business-as-usual (BAU as observed between the 2nd and 3rd NFI) timber volumes were set as harvesting targets for the whole simulation period. The promotion of conifers and a reduction of rotation lengths in a softwood scenario yielded 25% more timber over the whole simulation period than BAU. An energy wood scenario that reduced growing stock to 200 m³ ha⁻¹ by 2056 and promoted the natural broadleaved regeneration yielded 9% more timber than BAU before 2056 and 30% less thereafter due to decreasing increments. The softwood scenario resulted in higher energy yield than the energy wood scenario despite the lower energy content of softwood. Retaining PHT resulted in a reduction of timber harvest (0.055 m³ ha⁻¹ yr⁻¹ per habitat tree) and higher harvesting costs. Continuous cover management yielded moderate timber amounts throughout the simulation period, yet sustainably. Considering climate change, we discuss the risks associated with favoring drought- and disturbance-susceptible conifers at low elevations and emphasize that continuous cover management must allow for the regeneration of drought-adapted tree species. In conclusion, our simulations show potential for short-term increases in timber mobilization but also that such increases need to be carefully balanced with future forest productivity and other forest ecosystem services.