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Considering nature conservation in thinning

A (quasi-)experimental examination of decision-making on designated demonstration sites (M-scopes)


More recently, thinning experiments are more frequently used to exmaine hypotheses from social science about risk behavior or the impact of economic incentives. The INTEGRATE+ project of the EFICENT is currently establishing various so-called “Marteloscopes” (M-scopes) namely in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Switzerland, to support the training of silviculture experts, foresters and students but also various other stakeholder groups by giving them an opportunity for (hypothetical) thinning decisions in the field. These M- scopes provide a unique opportunity for examining hypotheses from social science with respect to the balancing of ecolocial vs. economic aspects of forest management in a (quasi-)experimental setting. The primary goal of the project is to demonstrate which individual and group characteristics as well as which framing of the decision problem/incentive structures can influence the ability to strike a balance between the economic value extracted from the forest and its ecological consequences.


The project aims at examining, across different types of forests and related management practices as well as across different types of silvicultural approaches (e.g. clear-cutting vs. single-tree cutting), whether the ability to strike a balance between ecological and economic goals in thinning decisions depends on:

Q1: different schools of thought with respect to thinning decisions that might either refer to the optimal point in time to extract the maximum economic value (e.g. the “Faustmann rule”) or rather integrate nature conservation considerations into the decision

Q2: the framing of the decision problem, for example by providing different incentive structures with the problem description or by comparing a problem description that asks for a maximization of ecological value under the constraint of maintaining the economic value against a problem description calling for a maximization of economic value under the constraint of maintaining the ecological value.

Research Design

The INTEGRATE+ Project of the Central European Regional Office of the European Forest Institute (EFICENT) (Kraus et al.) is currently establishing a series of demonstration sites (M-scopes) on which groups of individuals (student classes from universities or practitioners such as foresters, silviculture experts from public administration, private and public forest owners / decision-makers) can be trained in thinning and retention (Bruciamacchie 2006).

A M-scope is a 1ha plot in a forest in which all trees are inventoried. Each inventoried tree receives an identifier that is visibly attached to the log. Individuals or groups can thus walk through this plot and mark trees on a sheet (or a tablet computer) that shows the entire inventory. The sheet (or tablet computer) can provide various information about the trees or the decision-making problem, which may be dependent on the purpose of the thinning experiment. For the thinning experiments of the INTEGRATE+ project, each tree has been inventoried according to it’s economic and ecologic value: the value of the log has been estimated for various markets (energy wood, round timber) and the potential of a tree for being or becoming e.g. a habitat tree within a certain time- frame has been estimated. Methodologically, the project has to define a quasi-experimental design that allows pre- and post-treatment observations of treatment and control groups on the same or similar plots. The treatment is the use of the sheet/tablet containing pre-defined information about the trees and corresponding instruction.