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Forest development and monitoring

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Gradual changes in the forest can be detected only by means of long-term environmental observations. Some of the WSL's data series go back more than 100 years.


In the beginning, there was a crisis: by the middle of the 19th century, people had overused the forest, and flooding was a major problem. Founded in 1885, the WSL's predecessor Central Institute for Forestry Research was responsible for studying relationships and monitoring forest development. It established the first experimental plots for timber yield in 1888, and by 1896 there were already 459 plots. The studies continue to this day under the concept of "experimental forest management".

The growing need for representative information on the condition and development of the Swiss forest led to the establishment of the National Forest Inventory (NFI). The NFI has periodically provided data on the development of forest and wood resources, the condition of our protection forests and the quality of the forests as recreation areas and habitats for plants and animals since 1983. We also observe the undisturbed, natural development of forests in natural forest reserves.

"Forest dieback" debate

The "forest dieback" debate ("Waldsterben") in the 1980s not only resulted in the introduction of unleaded gasoline, the catalytic converter and 120/80 km/h speed limits, but also the launch of the Sanasilva programme and the Long-Term Forest Ecosystem Research (LWF) programme led by the WSL. In these programmes, we study the influence of air pollutants on the forest as well as on the carbon, nutrient and water cycles. Our aim is to clarify the long-term effects of anthropogenic and natural stresses on the forest, and identify the risks which are relevant to man and the environment.

Questions such as these can be answered only if we observe the forest over many years. Otherwise, it is impossible to differentiate random fluctuations from developmental trends.

When new questions arise, for example how people use the forest, new monitoring projects are added. For example, as part of the TreeNet project, we continuously measure parameters such as tree growth as well as environmental factors such as soil dryness using state-of-the-art sensors and data transmission techniques. The data can be transmitted instantly and observed online, thereby serving as an early warning system for such issues as water shortages.

Our monitoring projects survey a wide range of influences including climate change, the health and tree species diversity of the forest, changes in forested areas, wood utilisation potential, mechanical stability and rejuvenation in the protection forest, and the qualitative development of forest as a habitat and a recreational area. These projects provide the fundamental basis for decision-makers in government and business. They also serve as early warning systems for society and allow us to monitor the success of measures in nature conservation, forestry and natural hazard management.

These measurement series must be continued in the long term and the data permanently archived and made available to the scientific community in order to ensure their optimal application. Therefore, we are currently developing a long-term environmental data portal in our ENVIDAT project.




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