Falling timber prices mean that the services the forest provides for the entire population should be reconsidered. How are Swiss forest owners reacting to this situation? Urban Brütsch, Deputy Director of WaldSchweiz (Forest Switzerland), responds to our questions.
Mr Brütsch, more than half of Swiss forest enterprises are currently operating at a loss. Why is this?
UB: In the past, the revenues from timber covered the entire costs of the forest enterprises and owners. The profits could be used to invest in infrastructure or machinery in
order to work more cost-effectively again, or to finance other forest services. This has not been the case for many forest enterprises for a long time. Thus, from a financial point of view, timber production has become increasingly less important.
What are the consequences?
UB: If losses continue to be high, some forest enterprises will have to restrict or even stop forest management. However, a forest needs to be tended regularly in a targeted way to keep it stable and fit for climate change. Moreover, it should offer many services, such as providing protection against natural hazards, filtering drinking water, conserving biodiversity and providing recreation opportunities. This would then become difficult.
How can this be solved?
UB: All that can be done is to consistently reduce costs further or generate new income, for example by offering and marketing ‘non-timber forest services’, such as recreational facilities or CO2 storage capacity. Private forest owners without tax revenues are increasingly providing the services the public wants – or even demands – so far mostly free of charge. They will no longer be able to continue to do this.
Some forest owners have begun to offer tree patronages, forest sites as last resting places or CO2 storage certificates. Will this make it possible to finance forest management in the future?
UB: There are some positive examples where additional revenues are generated in this way. Most forest enterprises and owners have not, however, fully exploited this potential. Concrete agreements with the beneficiaries will be necessary to be able to generate revenues from forest services.
How can WSL research help here?
UB: Non-timber forest services are not often in much demand commercially. Tools for calculating the value of these services would be helpful. Such tools already exist for drinking water storage. It would also be valuable to have support in implementing research results in practice, for example by quantifying the recreational benefits of managed forests and of systematically paying for them.
(Beate Kittl, Diagonal 1/20)