The Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (Forest Europe), a high-level intergovernmental process involving 46 European countries and the EU, issues a report on the State of European Forests every five years; the latest report and summary contain some surprising figures, many of which indicate a need for management practices that are fair to workers and good for the planet.
Europe is planting trees but our forests and foresters do not seem better off for it. Over the last 30 years, the forest area in Europe has increased by nine per cent; the volume of wood and the weight of carbon stored in the biomass of European forests has grown by 50 per cent over the same period.
Nevertheless, significant threats to forest health and economic viability of the sector exist:
Across Europe, three per cent of forest area was affected by damage in 2015. A growing frequency of large-scale forest disturbances has recently been observed, including extreme droughts, heat waves, extensive bark beetle outbreaks and more extensive forest fires.
On average, the condition of European forests is deteriorating considerably. Loss of mean foliage of trees increased at 19 per cent of monitoring plots, more than double the number of plots where foliage improved in the period 2010 - 18.
Decreasing employment and low-income for those jobs available pose a challenge: Employment in the forest sector decreased by about 33 per cent from 2000 to 2015. Additionally, given current volatile wood markets and the adverse effects of a changing climate, low net revenue restricts forest management options.
Major challenges and obstacles are linked to continuing depopulation of rural areas, difficulties in ensuring occupational safety and health, pressures from increasing recreational use of forests and accelerating demand for and inefficient use of woody biomass.
The forestry sector is confronted with the need for a ‘just transition’. Forest Europe points to the need for stronger action to conserve biodiversity, favourable employment opportunities and measures for sustainable consumption. Spurred by the EU’s restoration agenda, less intensive forest management would allow trees to grow older, taking up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Preserving old-growth forest, restoring over-harvested forests and diversifying ages and species in plantations would ensure that management also works for climate and biodiversity.