Placing the focus on Climate-Smart Forestry

Interview with Mr Leo Long, Dr Vladimir Naumov and Mr Romi Rancken


With the launch of FOREST21 now behind them, the international team of academics heading the FOREST21 initiative can now shift their focus to three main areas of this project: Climate-Smart Forestry (CSF), entrepreneurship and student-centred teaching methods, such as problem-based learning.


Text Katy Johnson


Already the first CSF podcast has been developed by an international team that includes Dr Vladimir Naumov, Associate Professor at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Romi Rancken, Senior Lecturer at Novia University of Applied Sciences in Finland and Leo Long, SAFCOL’s Climate Change Specialist. Forestry South Africa’s Forestry in Focus magazine was treated to a preview of the Podcast to find out more about what is in store for the FOREST21 students.


What is CSF and why is it necessary?


“CSF is nicely defined by Bowditch et al (2020) as being ‘sustainable adaptive forest management and governance to protect and enhance the potential of forests to adapt to and mitigate climate change. The aim is to sustain ecosystem integrity and functions and to ensure the continuous delivery of ecosystem goods and services, while minimising the impact of climate-induced change on forests, on wellbeing, and nature’s contribution to people’”, explains Mr Long. “In essence, CSF seeks to ensure forest management is conducted in a manner which mitigates the impact of climate change on forest operations and long-term the sustainability of the Forest Sector, whilst adapting forest operations and management practices to increase carbon storage in forest biomass and harvested wood products (HWP).”


“It is also about taking care of forest biodiversity”, Dr Naumov adds, explaining that climate change and biodiversity loss are interconnected issues that should be solved at the same time.


With trees seen as a Nature-Based Solution (NBS) to climate change, capturing carbon dioxide and storing it above and below ground in carbon pools and HWP also acting as a store of carbon until they are burnt or placed in a landfill, CSF has huge potential.


“There are many reasons for a CSF approach, from the legal requirements to ensuring the long-term profitability of the industry and the growing consumer demand for ethically produced, sustainable and certified products”, Mr Rancken explains.


Considering both the potential the South African Forestry Sector has to sequester atmospheric carbon and the legislative requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Mr Long emphasises the importance of adopting a CSF approach.


"The Forestry Industry must remain profitable, in both the short and long term. While the short-term impact of climate change is often hard to see, long-term it has the potential to have devastating effects on forest ecosystems if predictions of drought, insect outbreaks and wildfires are realised. While predicting the impacts of climate change are complex, the effects will be seen at global, regional and local levels, therefore, it is important to take climate-smart actions both globally and locally, in South Africa”, Dr Naumov adds.


CSF: A universal concept?


While climate change is a global phenomenon, which will impact every continent, country and community, the scale and severity of its impact will be localised as it is dependent on several natural and manmade factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the prevailing climatic patterns and geographic positioning, as well as the inherent resource availability of a specific country, domestic economic dependencies, political stance on climate change and the overall country readiness.


“Although there will be common features in CSF globally, we must remember that globally forestry differs dramatically too in scale, composition, rotation lengths, markets and the abiotic, biotic, social and economic challenges that it faces. As a result, each country’s approach to CSF will be unique, both because of the nature of forestry in that country and the prevailing and projected impacts of climate change”, Mr Long explains, with his sentiments echoed by Dr Naumov: “CSF has to be developed according to the regional context, both in regard to current policies and to the natural conditions.”


This was one of the points evident in the Podcast, as the speakers contrasted forestry in South Africa with what is being done in Norway and Finland. “There are huge differences between our countries when it comes to both forests and forestry, from their size and ownership to the availability of water, which means management systems will differ a lot. However, the basic principles of CSF remain the same”, Mr Rancken adds.


In terms of forestry in South Africa, Mr Long suggests: “The CFS approach will focus on mitigating the anticipated negative impacts on the industry, which include a reduced planting window and increased planting costs, increased mortality especially in marginal sights, reduced mean annual increment as well as increased biophysical stress, pest and disease variety, prevalence and range and changes in fire risk and intensity”.


The CSF approach will also look at promoting an increase in the use of harvested wood products (HWP), particularly in the built environment.


Is CSF a big jump from what is already being taught in forestry degrees and diplomas?


The current curriculum, according to Mr Long, places the focus primarily on the technical and scientific aspects of forest management practices to maximise production and commercial viability. That while both environmental sustainability and social aspects of forestry are included, a CSF approach will place greater emphasis on these aspects.


“The CSF approach is an encompassing approach which seeks to elevate the role of forests as an NBS, emphasising measures for the longevity of the industry given the anticipated climate changes, as well as including the promotion of a “wood culture” in support of increasing usage of HWP”, Mr Long clarifies.


“In many countries, we have seen gravitation towards biodiversity-aware forestry during the last few decades. We now need to widen this scope to include climate awareness. If a new generation of foresters is educated in the many dimensions of climate change and the relevance of this to forestry, they have the potential to become agents for change”, Mr Rancken concludes.


What are the barriers to CSF, if any?


“In the past, the lack of understanding regarding the severity of the problem and the expected negative results of climate change caused a huge problem. However, the winds are changing rapidly, so this is likely to be less of a challenge in the future. This change in attitude towards climate change will enable us to concentrate on developing methods for mitigating the effects of it rather than debating if it is necessary or not”, Mr Rancken explains. Yet, developing methods for mitigating the effects of climate change may not be as straightforward as it sounds.


“I see two barriers that can hinder the implementation. First, it is methodological debate, does CSF mean to plant as much trees as possible, or is it a forest management aimed at maintaining and restoring forest biodiversity with as much as possible natural composition and structure of the forest stands? Second, are the policies in place. There is much that must be done to mitigate the first barrier, but it is an international issue that scientists should solve. A solution to the second problem is easier, as there should be instruments that secure implementation of CSF approach in both the short and long terms”, Dr Naumov continues.


The complex nature of forestry and climate change, which span the environmental, social, political and economic spheres, means any solution is like to require trade-offs. For example, increasing carbon storage by lengthening rotation time, has knock-on social and economic implications, or, reducing GHG emissions by doing away with under canopy burning will impact fire prevention.


“Certain CSF may appear counterintuitive, it is therefore crucial that proposed CSF measures be evaluated for applicability and efficacy before implementation, ensuring that all CSF measures are taken with the long-term sustainability of the sector in mind”, Mr Long concludes.


This article was originally published in the FSA Magazine 3/2021.