29 August 2008

Future scenarios for the forest

How forests should be used — and sufficient for many different and uses — is the focus of Mistra´s new research programme Future Forests. The goal is to develop sustainable strategies for forest management, in a future characterized by uncertainty.

The big challenge for forestry in the future is to meet many different types of needs.  Demand for traditional resources, such as timber and pulp, is expected to increase, as is demand for resources for energy production.  At the same time, there are established environmental goals, such as protecting biological diversity and protecting forests as a place for recreation.  

"We can already see that the equation doesn't really add up.  Add climate change and its consequences to the picture, and it is clear that the future for forests is very uncertain.  How forests will be used will be determined by both environmental goals and values, such as maintaining biodiversity and the usefulness of forestry products.  Therefore, we must work across disciplines to propose sustainable strategies for forests," says Stig Larsson, Research Director for Future Forests — Sustainable Strategies under Uncertainty and Risk and Professor in the Ecology Department at SLU in Uppsala.

A preliminary funding decision for the programme has been made. The decision as to whether or not to finalize approval for the funding will be made later in the fall.

Open centre
The hub of the research programme is a centre for analysis and synthesis.  Twenty senior researchers from SLU in Uppsala and Umeå, Skogforsk and UmeåUniversity are the core of the research programme and are directly tied to centre.  In addition, the programme is expected to invite temporary constellations of research groups that will study specific questions for limited periods of time.  They could, for example, study maintaining biodiversity for ethical or functional reasons.  Many questions — such as which or how many biological species are necessary for an ecosystem to function — are large and complex, and cannot be research solely through experimentation.

Different perspectives
"We believe, however, that temporary groups comprised of researchers and other experts can sit down together and synthesize and analyze existing knowledge, and perhaps also identify new questions that need to be researched.  For large and complex questions, such as how forests should be used in a future characterized by uncertainty, it is necessary to utilize all of the competence and experience that is available," says Tomas Lundmark, Programme Director for FutureForests and Manager of the Unit for Field-based Forestry Research at SLU in Vindeln.

Long circulation times
Both Larsson and Lundmark feel that the programme's strength when it comes to creating future scenarios is that researchers from the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences participate.  This is about illuminating questions such as increased productivity from multiple perspectives.  It can involve questions about increased growth in forestry resources, but also more effective nature conservation; in other words, more benefit per hectare than today.  Sustainability and adaptability are key concepts in the programme.  Because forests have long circulation times, it is important to take the uncertainty associated with future development of the climate and markets into account.  "We include not only traditional natural science perspectives, but even value perspectives.  If values change, which can happen quickly, the conditions for the laws that regulate how we use the forests change as well," says Tomas Lundmark.

The forests´ different futures
One challenge for researchers is to attempt to develop methods for making decisions about how forests should be managed in a 50 to 100 year perspective, and considering all of the uncertainty regarding how the future will unfold.  "Today we manage forests as if today's values and markets will remain the same in the future.  In addition, the climate is changing.  Good forestry management today is not necessarily what creates the largest range of options for future generations," says Tomas Lundmark.

Stig Larsson points out that the Swedish forest has many futures. "If the energy question is resolved within the next few decades, then perhaps forests will be used primarily for recreation and health in the future.  If it isn't resolved, then forests may become our most important source of renewable bio-resources for both energy and other products," he says.


Programme duration:
2009 — 2012

Mistra contributes 60 million SEK, Sweden´s forestry sector contributes 50 million SEK, and SLU and Umeå University contribute 40 million SEK.

Programme Director:
Tomas Lundmark, SLU Umeå/Vindeln

Research Director:
Stig Larsson, SLU Uppsala

Mistra Mistra