When is entering a forest permitted or prohibited?
About 48 percent of Austria‘s national territory is covered with forests. May anyone enter any forest whenever he wants, walk on forest paths or cross a forest?
The Forest Act (“ForstG“) of 1975 stipulates that anyone may in principle enter and spend some time in the forest for recreation. There are exceptions to this rule and the following areas must not be used for this purpose:
- Forest areas for which the authority has imposed a ban on access;
- Forest areas with operational facilities, such as arboretums, wood-storage and wood-seasoning sites, storage places for material and machinery, buildings, operating sites for hauling facilities, including their areas of risk;
- Re-afforestation areas and new afforested areas, where their plant growth has not yet achieved a height of 3 metres;
- Forest areas which have been banned from use by the forest owner.
- Use going beyond entry and spending some time for recreational purposes, such as camping in the dark, tenting, riding vehicles (incl. bicycles) or horse-riding, is only permissible with the consent of the owner of the forest, and on forest roads only with the consent of the person responsible for maintaining the forest road, which in most cases is the forest owner.
Using the forest for recreational purposes does not cause usucaption as set out in the Austrian Civil Code (ABGB).
Can the owner of a forest forbid others to enter his/her forest?
Under certain conditions (§ 34 ForstG) forests may be temporarily or permanently excluded (banned) from use for recreational purposes by the owner of the forest.
Bans limited in time may, for example, be imposed on construction sites of hauling facilities, risk areas for wood felling and hauling, areas which have been subject to windthrow or windbreakage until the processing of the trunks thrown or broken has come to an end, or forest areas in which treatment is being applied to combat forest pests.
Long-term bans are permitted for example for special plantations (such as Christmas tree plantations) and, to a limited extent, for areas which the owner of the forest retains for himself or his employees in close proximity to their dwellings.
How can somebody visiting a forest find out whether entry has been restricted or is forbidden?
Re-afforestation areas and new afforested areas whose vegetation is less than 3 m high and whose use for recreational purposes is not permitted do not need to be marked. Also forest areas whose use has been restricted or which have been closed for use by the general public by the forestry authority for reasons of forest fire protection do not need to be marked.
Otherwise, information boards have to be put up in accordance with the Forest Marking Ordinance (“Forstliche Kennzeichnungsverordnung“) to make clear whether there are restrictions on the entry of and the stay in the forest.
The information boards have to be put up at the places where public roads and paths, marked paths, freight paths and forest roads as well as marked ski routes, pistes and cross-country skiing trails go into the banned area to be marked or are directly adjacent to it.
Forest roads do not need to be marked specifically; unauthorised riding of vehicles on them is therefore not permitted even in cases where no such marking exists.
The forest protection officer as public guard
The forest protection officer has the rights of a public guard. On request, the forest protection officer must present his/her professional identity card. In particular, the forest protection officer is entitled to expel people from a forest in the event of unauthorised forest use and, in specific certain cases, to establish the identity of the persons concerned and to arrest them.
Administrative offences are punishable by fines of up to € 3,630 or arrest for up to two weeks, depending on the type of offence. For example, unauthorised use of forest areas that are already excluded from the general right of use for recreational purposes due to the applicable legal provisions (e.g. re-afforestation areas and new afforested areas with vegetation less than 3 metres in height) or due to bans are punishable with fines of up to € 150.
Provisions on liability in forests
Anyone spending time in a forest off public roads and paths must himself/herself be aware of all the risks associated with the forest and forest management. In particular, the forest owner is, as a principle, under no obligation to change the condition of the forest soil and its vegetation in a way preventing or reducing risks.
The liability for the condition of a forest road or any other path that the owner of a forest has, through corresponding marking, expressly dedicated to use by the general public, is regulated by § 1319a ABGB (Civil Code) on the liability of maintainers of paths. In the event of gross negligence the forest owner and any other persons participating in forest management are also liable for damage occurring on paths as a result of the condition of the adjacent forest.
- Forest Act 1975 (“Forstgesetz 1975“), Federal Law Gazette No 440, as last amended by Federal Law Gazette I No 56/2016 "Rechtsinformationssystem"
- Forest Marking Ordinance (“Forstliche Kennzeichnungsverordnung“), Federal Law Gazette No 179/1976, as last amended by Federal Law Gazette II No 67/1997 "Rechtsinformationssystem"
Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management
Directorate III 2 - Forest Legislation, Legal Policy and Vocational Qualification
Director Mag. Katharina Kaiser
Phone: +43 1 711 00 - 606681