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Forest management and forest functions

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Forests provides a range of products and services that are central in nature-based solutions for a sustainable society. We conduct our research to quantify, understand and monitor our forests, enhance their ability to provide a balanced set of products and services, and promote their sustainable use and management.


Forests provides essential resources that must be balanced and harmonized with other forests’ functions and services, as required by the Swiss Federal Act on Forest. It is important to know size, distribution and extent of our forests, how they change in space and time, and how they can be impacted by human activity. For example, how may Swiss forests adapt to future climate? How and to what extent will they help in mitigating climate change ? Are there “climate-smart forestry” solutions to promote adaptation? Which management activity can also protect biodiversity? How can we exploit our forests with a minimum impact on soil and the surrounding environment? Is there a sustainable balance between the needs of people, and the life of wild animals and plants?

Here at WSL, we develop the scientific basis to understand forest processes. Our work helps political, societal and economic actors to ensure the long-term sustainable use of our forests.

More than 100 years of forest research

Observing, inventorying, monitoring and investigating our forests and the availability of wood resources has been one of our core tasks for more than 100 years. Starting with long-term observation on permanent plots in late 1800s (link), our activity nowadays also includes research on Forests Reserves (in co-operation with ETH) and the Swiss National Forest Inventory NFI. The latter is a major program implemented on a regular basis in partnership with the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) on more than 6000 plots across Switzerland.

Forests for all

Forests are used in many ways, by many people, and are requested to provide many products and services. This may generate different expectations and conflicts. It is our aim to understand how different forest structures may favour the balance among these functions. In this perspective, we:

  • develop and suggest management actions designed to provide protection against natural hazards, promote forests as a habitat for wildlife and recreational spaces, and optimise forests’ contribution to mitigate the impact of climate change.
  • investigate social and economic issues connected with forests and forest use: for instance, we examine the effects of forest policy, look at people’s attitudes towards forests, and study how forest functions can be valued in economic terms.

Models and simulations

We host world-class long-term data repositories on forest systems based on forest inventories, permanent plots on growth and yield and forest reserves. These form the basis for a wide range of internationally acknowledged modelling and forecasting tools, including statistical methods, information technologies, and decision models. We can simulate a range of scenarios in relation to climate, market and accessibility of wood resources to promote a sustainable management and use of Swiss forests.



Forests and Climate Change

Climate change will drastically alter the Swiss forest, with consequences for humans. WSL conducts research into the relevant processes.

Swiss National Forest Inventory NFI

What is the condition of the Swiss forest and how does it change over time? The Swiss National Forest Inventory (NFI) provides answers.

Protection forest

In the mountains, protection from natural hazards such as avalanches is the forests’ foremost function. We investigate what it takes to maintain it.

Modelling forest development

Our models help to assess the consequences of environmental changes on forest services and thus support forestry personnel and policymakers.