A participatory WSL initiative advances forest monitoring

Forests are under pressure and rapidly changing. In order to be able to react to these changes, forest monitoring is of crucial importance. The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL launched an initiative (SwissAIM) to improve forest monitoring. A new study sheds light on why the initiative is needed. Lead author and WSL scientist Marco Ferretti explains the initiative and why it is important.

FF: Marco Ferretti, why did you launch the Advanced Inventorying and Monitoring for Swiss Forests (SwissAIM) initiative?

MF: The information needs related to forests have changed and expanded. In Switzerland, we can build on the strong basis offered by the Swiss National Forest Inventory and other national monitoring programs. However, climate change caused repeated and more frequent extreme events like droughts, which changed our information needs about forests. We need to monitor our forests more frequently, more comprehensively, and possibly more cost-effectively than before. For example, many intensive and valuable forests measurements are located outside a statistically representative sampling framework, which limits the possibility to extrapolate their results. If the same measurements are located on the same set of representative sites and complemented with sensors and proximal and remote sensing techniques, forest monitoring will gain an enormous added value. This is the idea behind SwissAIM: Building on existing monitoring infrastructure to stay a step ahead.

FF: For whom is the initiative important?

MF: Forests provide many services to society and are a key asset to mitigate climate change, so the initiative is important for all of us. For scientists, the initiative is important because, by bringing diversified measurements and expertise together on the same representative set of sites, it will create synergies. Different groups of scientists will benefit from each other. Stakeholders on the political level and forest managers will count on more frequent information on forest dynamics to plan and verify the results of their decisions. The society at large will gain advanced information for better combating and adapting to climate change.

FF: What has happened since the initiative was launched?

MF: We launched the initiative in 2020. Since then, we organized three workshops and more than 20 bilateral meetings to develop a common vision for science, society, and policy. We also carried out tests in the field with available monitoring data. All these activities have been documented in three reports and two scientific publications. Different stakeholders were involved since the beginning because a wide range of expertise and perspectives is needed to expand forest inventorying and monitoring. We were in contact for example with the Federal Office for the Environment (BAFU), the Cantons, and NGOs like the Swiss Ornithological Institute, to get to know their views and needs. This participatory bottom-up process was a long and a big effort, but such a broad agreement is a novelty in forest monitoring, not only in Switzerland, but also in Europe and beyond. It enabled us to identify the research questions published in the study and it will give robustness and acceptance to the whole initiative.

FF: What are the next steps?

MF: Now we are finalizing the final structure, how the SwissAIM can look like and how much it may cost, the concrete proposal of how we can put the initiative into practice. Initiatives going in the same direction are being promoted for example by Horizon Europe projects and the European Commission itself. We were faster to conceptualize it. For Switzerland, this is an opportunity to confirm and take on a leading role in forest monitoring.

The Advanced Inventorying and Monitoring System for Swiss Forests (SwissAIM initiative) takes forest monitoring to the next level by integrating current, time-tested procedures on a more frequent basis with new techniques such as remote sensing and eDNA. It aims to contribute to a better understanding of the status and changes, processes and dynamics in Swiss forests and enhance monitoring techniques. Further information: https://www.wsl.ch/de/ueber-die-wsl/organisation/programme-und-initiativen/swissaim-neue-inventur-und-monitoring-systeme-fuer-die-schweizer-waelder/

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