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Our vision

WSL strives for excellence in terrestrial environmental research to provide solutions improving quality of life in a healthy environment.

Our Mission: Research for People and the Environment

  • WSL explores the dynamics of the terrestrial environment, and the use and protection of natural habitats and cultural landscapes.
  • WSL monitors forests, landscapes, biodiversity, natural hazards, and snow and ice.
  • WSL develops sustainable solutions for socially relevant issues - together with its partners from science and society

Short portrait of the WSL

The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research is concerned with the use, development and protection of natural and urban spaces. The focus of our research is on solving problems to do with the responsible use of landscapes and forests and a prudent approach to natural hazards, especially those common in mountainous countries. WSL occupies a leading position internationally in these research areas. We also provide groundwork for sustainable environmental policies in Switzerland.

WSL has, from the start, been active in all regions in Switzerland. In 1888 the first experimental plots were set up across the country to find out more about tree growth and yield. Today WSL maintains more than 6000 experimental and research plots, including large experimental stations for studying rock fall or debris flow, study areas for monitoring the effects of climate change on forests and sites damaged by storms or fires for investigating the impact of these natural hazards.

WSL is a research institute of the Swiss Confederation. It is part of the ETH Domain and employs approximately 500 people. In addition to the headquarters in Birmensdorf, near Zurich, and to the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos, branch stations in Lausanne and Bellinzona (opened in 1991) and Sion (1996) generate local synergies and reach out to professionals.

As part of an ETH Domain research institute, the Confederation requires the WSL to provide cutting-edge research and social benefits, particularly for Switzerland. One of the WSL's important national functions is to conduct the Swiss National Forest Inventory (NFI) and long-term forest ecosystem monitoring (LWF). It is particularly active in applied research, but basic research is also among its duties. SLF employees develop tools and guidelines for authorities, industry and the public in order to offer them support in natural hazard risk management and in the analysis of climatic and environmental changes. They also share their knowledge by teaching at domestic and foreign universities and by training other professionals.

The duties of the WSL are described in the following laws and regulations:

The fundamental mission of the ETH Domain research institutes, and thus of the WSL, is described in Article 21 of the ETH Law of 4 October 1991:

  • They conduct research in their areas of responsibility and provide scientific and technical services.       
  • To the extent allowed by their circumstances, they are available to universities for teaching and research.   

The professional orientation and duties of the WSL are specified in Article 3 of the ETH Board Ordinance of 13 November 2003 regarding the ETHDomain research institutes: The WSL works on sustainable spatial development, particularly in mountainous areas and in conurbations, in the following technical areas:

  • Landscape research;
  • Forest ecology and forest management;
  • Natural hazards and integral risk management;
  • Snow, ice, avalanches and permafrost.

In addition to its research duties, the WSL has four national functions based on laws and regulations. For the SLF, the second function is of particular importance:

  • In cooperation with the Federal Office for the Environment, the WSL collects basic data for the Swiss National Forest Inventory (NFI), and in the Long-term Forest Ecosystem Research (LWF) programme it collects data on the impacts on forest ecosystems (Article 37a (2) of the Forest Ordinance (WaV) of 30 November 1992, last revised on 1 March 2015).
  • The SLF, which is part of the WSL, operates the avalanche warning service in Switzerland and alerts the public to avalanche hazards (Article 9 (1) of the Alert Ordinance (AV) of 18 August 2010, last revised on 1 January 2014).
  • It operates the Swiss Forest Health Facility in accordance with Article 30 (2) of the Forest Ordinance of 30 November 1992.
  • It ensures the scientific and technical maintenance of forestry plant protection pursuant to Article 44 of the Plant Protection Ordinance of 28 February 2001.

The Confederate Council has granted the ETH Domain a four-year service contract. Certain parts of the contract will be assigned to the WSL in the target agreement between the ETH Board and the WSL. This target agreement expands upon and clarifies the duties specified in the Ordinance.


Working at the WSL

About 550 researchers, technicians and administrative staff contribute to the worldwide reputation of our environmental research institute.

Facts and figures

Our multilingual yearly report describes the financial aspects of WSL according to IPSAS standards.

Experimental sites and laboratories

From the microscope to entire valleys: Our laboratory is the whole of Switzerland. We maintain over 6000 monitoring and research sites.

How we conduct our research

At WSL and SLF we work by monitoring, experimenting, modelling and providing information. Thus we contribute to solutions of societal challenges.

Research programmes and initiatives

Research programmes and initiatives are inter- and transdisziplinary cooperations, setting priorities in the WSL's research activities.


Further information