Climate influences the structure and function of forest ecosystems and plays a crucial role in forest health. Climate change could directly or indirectly affect the growth and productivity of forests and may worsen many potential threats, such as wildfires, human development or drought.
The Haut Languedoc forest covers an area of more than 200 000 hectares. This mountainous rural area is located at the intersection of the Mediterranean and Atlantic bio-regions. As a result, it is an ecosystem that is highly sensitive to the impacts of climate change, as can be seen in areas of reforestation following the forest fires of 2003. Such impacts are expected to become more pronounced in future. There is a lack of information and tools for forest managers and stakeholders in the forestry-wood sector which increases the vulnerability of this natural habitat and economic environment to future threats. The development of such tools will help guarantee the sustainability and resilience of forest ecosystems.
The objective of the LIFE FORECCAsT project was to provide forest owners and managers of Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc with the means to build their own management strategy, taking climate change scenarios into consideration, in order to protect territorial forest ecosystems and ensure a dynamic forestry sector in compliance with environmental, economic and social challenges. To reach this overall objective, the following specific goals were foreseen: to develop methodologies and tools to help decision-making for the forestry-wood sector; to incorporate field observations in order to improve the usefulness of the decision-making tool developed by the project, FORECCAsT; to make a list of bio-indicators that will form the basis of a monitoring system on the effects of climate change on woodland biodiversity; to protect vulnerable ecosystems and habitats in the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc; to put forward adaptation strategies for forestry and genetic resources, including alternative production systems, and a better understanding of biodiversity and the risk of forest fire; and to raise awareness in the forestry sector and local populations on future risks and the need to act now to protect the forestry industry and forest ecosystems.
The LIFE FORECCAsT project provided forest owners and managers of the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc in France with information, user-friendly tools and other means to tackle the challenges of climate change.
The project partners developed a mobile phone application to help forest stakeholders to evaluate and manage the risk of forest dieback in a context of global change. The tool can be used at the national scale (France), and a total of 50 people were trained on how to use it. The project team implemented 25 test sites to provide Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc (PNRHL) professionals with potential solutions to their issues. These sites are demonstrators of tree species or forest management procedures adapted to climate change, which stakeholders can draw inspiration from for their own forest management activities.
Project activities led to the publication of an action plan describing climate risks for forests located in the PNRHL territory and recommendations to manage a crisis, including common organisation, communication and the establishment of a crisis unit. After validation by concerned stakeholders and experts, the guide was printed for dissemination, for example, at various project events.
The project beneficiaries collected data for the development of the Foreccast application; surveyed the perceptions of local stakeholders to climate change; and developed and disseminated the Foreccast application (based on the BioClimsol methodology developed by CNPF). The application includes a Reforestation module to help forest owners select the right tree species according to the local context and predicted climate change, and a Forest stand module that defines the level of vigilance given current and future climate scenarios, topography and soil characteristics through a Climate Soil Index, to provide forest owners/managers with silvicultural recommendations. The BioClimsol methodology, included in the Foreccast application, was used to implement diagnoses in 4 300 ha of the PNRHL territory with the aim of implementing adaptation strategies in forest areas. Project actions have led to management being adapted to climate change in 39 ha of existing forests and 28 ha of reforestation projects.
Various communication activities and events were organised to raise awareness among local forest stakeholders and the general public. Networking activities enabled the sharing of knowledge and best practices with stakeholders in France, Europe, and worldwide. The project helps implement the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change, COM(2011) 244 ‘Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020’, and COM(2013) 659 ’A new EU Forest Strategy: for forests and the forest based sector’. The project also contributes to the implementation of regional and national policies.
Its tools and methodology will help preserve forest ecosystems by adapting practices to climate change, the goal being to maintain the financial revenues of forestry stakeholders, and also the tourist industry. 6.5 full time job equivalents were created during the project purpose, and 4 employees kept their jobs after the project. Project activities were performed by local subcontractors whenever possible. The ongoing maintenance and development of the Foreccast application will mainly be ensured with CNPF's own funds, though once the tool is more mature and tested at the national scale, it is expected that a moderate fee will be requested to partly cover long-term management costs. Social benefits are related to the economic benefits through employment in the forestry and tourism sectors.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).