For Sustainable Forests in Europe, Study Natural Disturbance

by Joshua Brown, University of Vermont
April 18, 2022

European forests are in trouble. “Not because they’re being lost,” says University of Vermont scientist William Keeton. “Europe, actually, is greener and more heavily forested now than it has been in centuries.” But many of the continent’s forests are suffering major insect outbreaks, forest disease problems, increasing frequencies of wind-storms, and more-intense fires.

To help give forest managers and policymakers new options, Keeton and a large team of European scientists completed an extensive, multi-year study of forests in thirteen countries across the continent.

Their results show that most current forest management in Europe doesn’t imitate the patterns of nature—specifically, the complex patterns created by natural disturbances that leave behind a mosaic of tree types, ages, and sizes; standing and downed dead wood; and highly variable, resilient landscapes.   

Instead, they found that the vast majority—almost seventy-three percent—of European forests skew toward homogenous, even-aged plantations. These, historically, have been managed to maximize growth and yield of timber and other wood products, but are increasingly vulnerable to environmental stress and climate change.

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