What does society expect from Austria’s forests?

Forests in the urban environment
Photo: BML / Hans Kiessling

Preserving traditional values and implementing innovative ideas do not contradict each other; in fact they can work harmoniously, with the best solutions to the diverse challenges faced by forest owners face being those that combine the two.

It is vital to es­tab­lish net­works through which society can interact and determine the most effective forest policy, based on combining past experiences with research, and with the goal of satisfying both public and private interests.

Ques­tion: “What does so­ci­ety ex­pect from forests?”

In order to answer this question, it would be use­ful to examine cur­rent ‘megatrends’, or major so­cio-po­lit­i­cal ideas and/or movements that capture society’s imagination.

The find­ings ob­tained from trend re­search can be sum­marised as follows:

  • The rising prosperity that marks our era brings with it the growth of new forms of poverty in our country.
  • Promote the shortening of work­ing hours
  • Increasing leisure-time and greater recre­ation opportunities has resulted in the emergence of a ‘well­ness boom’; that is, these new opportunities have brought with them a growth in alternative sports and ad­ven­ture tourism, coupled with higher acceptance of risk
  • Higher life ex­pectancies have resulted in the greater share of the elderly in pop­u­la­tion pyra­mids
  • Com­fort­able liv­ing con­di­tions
  • The presence of an ex­tra­or­di­nar­ily lengthy period of peace in Europe
  • Mi­gra­tion has seen a trend to­wards ur­ban­i­sa­tion coupled with an ex­o­dus from pe­riph­eral areas
  • Highlighting greater dis­par­i­ties be­tween urban and rural areas
  • Struc­tural change with de­cline in the rural pop­u­la­tion
  • Rapid changes in work­ing en­vi­ron­ments and the de­vel­op­ment of new mar­kets
  • Highlighting both the positive and negative effects of glob­al­i­sa­tion

Peo­ple are now finding values in completely new ideas; church-going com­mu­ni­ties are witnessing an increase in spir­i­tu­al­ity, while at the same time es­o­teric move­ments are boom­ing- with some so­cial events even resembling sub­sti­tute re­li­gions. There are also many com­mit­ted, re­spon­si­ble and forward thinking young peo­ple in Austria. Further, it is the presence of open-mind­ed­ness and tol­er­ance, as well as a diverse breadth of knowl­edge, coupled with the mo­ti­va­tion of responsible and en­vi­ron­men­tally-con­scious con­sumers, that will facilitate the im­ple­men­ta­tion of strate­gies for a sus­tain­able Aus­tria.

So­cial val­ues:

For many generations, forests have been pre­ciously treasured and sought after due to the abundance of wood found there, which could then be used for a wide range of purposes; in fact,  historians suggest that man lived in a “wooden age” until the discovery of fos­sil fuels.

In many religious, forests are seen as having a great spir­i­tual value whose roots go far back in his­tory.

Al­though hu­mans al­ways had to clear parts of the forest in order to construct set­tle­ments,, the for­est ecosys­tem as a whole has cultural significance and steps were therefore taken to preserve it.

However, wood and forests were always in abundance historically, leading people to take them for granted; in fact, it was only after centuries of overexploitation did wood become scarce, and subsequently people became aware of the great production value found in forests. As a result, since the Mid­dle Ages, ensuring the continued supply of wood in times of cri­sis has gained im­por­tance.

Forests represent eco­nomic cap­i­tal through their po­ten­tial of pro­vid­ing wood and non-wood prod­ucts. In addition, a service sector may arise around forests in the future.

At the turn of the 19th/20th cen­tury, when the recre­ation and tourism sec­tors started to de­velop, forests be­came popular to visit due to its natural beauty. This has continued to occur even today, with forest tours amongst other things being organised.

With the gen­eral improvement of work­ing en­vi­ron­ments and conditions as a whole, issues surrounding job sat­is­fac­tion for individuals working in forests has be­come im­por­tant.

For roughly 150 years, sci­entific inquiry has highlighted the im­por­tance of bio­di­ver­sity to the for­est ecosys­tems, such that the nature conservation movement has, for the last 100 years, attempted to preserve and promote this importance. As a consequence, the promotino of biodiversity was declared a general public interest at the last UN En­vi­ron­ment Con­fer­ence.

Finally, the cul­tural di­men­sions of forests and the great num­ber of cul­tural as­sets as­so­ci­ated with for­est own­er­ship have gained sig­nif­i­cance.

The importance of these de­mands on forests constantly change, both either positively or negatively, and reflect the changes in social trends and needs, which is in turn based on a country’s level of development. Sci­en­tific studies provide further proof of these cor­re­la­tions.

For­est ef­fects, new top­ics and bal­ance of in­ter­ests

The ef­fects of for­est habi­tats are set out in the For­est Act. The 2002 Amend­ment to the For­est Act made clear that each and every for­est is also recog­nised as a habi­tat. In re­cent years however,  discussions about the role of forests in preserving the water sup­ply, and ensuring cli­mate pro­tec­tion and bio­di­ver­sity have gained im­por­tance.

For­est pol­icy focuses on achiev­ing an op­ti­mal bal­ance of in­ter­ests be­tween for­est own­ers and other so­cial groups.

The so-called “bot­tom-up ap­proaches” are par­tic­u­larly use­ful in ensuring this in­ter­ac­tion works perfectly for all parties concerned, since these ap­proaches are characterised by forums and discussions, information sharing, consulting servicing, decision-making aids, expertise and training.

In contrast, ‘top-down’ policies, where the state issues statutory control measures and safeguards, should only be applied where necessary.