20 years of natural forest reserves

The Natural Forest Reserves Programme was launched in 1995 and the positive effects on the environment can already be seen.

Nat­ural for­est re­serve “Hin­terer Oiswald”

200 years ago the re­mote for­est in the North­ern Lime­stone Alps, which is hard to ac­cess even today, was in­ten­sively used as a grazing site for cattle, as it was essential for the farmers to turn a profit since, at the time, fodder was not as easily obtainable as it is today. Yet, the downside of this practice is that it left long-lasting impacts on the ecosystem and natural environment in the area.
Even today, these forests are still not comparable to the original virgin forests that once occupied these areas, despite the fact that the nature re­serve “Hin­terer Oiswald” has developed in a highly natural manner such that it is a perfect example of the typ­i­cal mid­dle- and high-mon­tane for­est com­mu­ni­ties of the north­ern rim of the Alps.
How­ever, in the future this forest will once again become similar, in both its appearance and the state of its ecosytem, to the orig­i­nal vir­gin for­est.

For­est com­mu­ni­ties, nat­ural for­est re­serves - what ex­actly do these terms mean?

118 dif­fer­ent for­est com­mu­ni­ties are known to occur in Aus­tria:
They in­clude Austrian pine forests in the Lower Aus­trian east­ern alpine rim just as much as the sub­mon­tane com­mon oak/horn­beam forests which are found on the north­ern strip, in areas ranging from Vo­rarl­berg, Tyrol, and Salzburg to Upper Aus­tria”, explained Georg Frank, sci­en­tist at the Fed­eral Re­search Cen­tre for Forests.
For 20 years he and his team have con­ducted re­search work in 195 nat­ural for­est re­serves  all over Aus­tria, which com­prises a total area of 8,403 hectares.
As nat­ural for­est re­serves must not be com­mer­cially utilised, they offer op­ti­mal con­di­tions to study and undertake research about for­est com­mu­ni­ties.
Spe­cial im­por­tance is at­tached to the co­op­er­a­tion with the own­ers of the forests as pro­grammes like these are only suc­cess­ful if the two part­ners co­op­er­ate and sup­port the pro­gramme. In legal and ad­min­is­tra­tive terms, the Nat­ural For­est Re­serves Pro­gramme is im­ple­mented by the Fed­eral Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry, En­vi­ron­ment and Water Man­age­ment.

Aus­tria’s forests

“Forests are prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant and most typ­i­cal land­scape fea­ture of our coun­try.
This com­plex ecosys­tem cov­ers al­most fifty per­cent of Aus­tria’s na­tional ter­ri­tory and pro­vides a home to count­less an­i­mal and plant species.
The Nat­ural For­est Re­serve Pro­gramme makes an es­sen­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the Aus­trian Bio­di­ver­sity Strat­egy, which both safe­guards, and im­proves, the bio­di­ver­sity of our forests”, emphasised Fed­eral Min­is­ter Andrä Rup­prechter.

Near-nat­ural de­vel­op­ment in­stead of preser­va­tion 

Nat­ural For­est Re­serves are for­est areas that are exclusively used for the nat­ural de­vel­op­ment of the for­est ecosys­tem, which in turn con­tributes to the promotion of bi­o­di­ver­sity. That is, Natural Forest Reserves are areas where no commercial activity for the harvesting of wood is or timber is allowed as, instead, their intention is to preserve the natual environment. “They are designed to re­flect the tree species com­po­si­tion, the struc­ture of the forest stand, its veg­e­ta­tion and, above all, the nat­ural de­vel­op­ment of future forests com­mu­ni­ties in the best possible manner”, explained Peter Mayer, Head of the Fed­eral Re­search Cen­tre for Forests (BFW).

Ul­ti­mately, each of the for­est com­mu­ni­ties oc­cur­ring in one of the 22 growth zones is to be rep­re­sented by at least one nature reserve. It is es­sen­tial to not just re­tain the cur­rent sta­tus, but also to allow nat­ural de­vel­op­ment. Thus, in order to achieve this, policies such as leav­ing dead­wood in forests as well as nat­ural re­gen­er­a­tion are followed, to minimise human interference.

published at 03.07.2018, Kommunikation und Service (Abteilung Präs. 5)