Windthrow area in the Nideren valley near Schwanden in summer 2004
Photo: W. Schönenberger (WSL)
Not far from the windthrow area near
Schwanden bark beetle infestation on over 100 ha led to a large area of dying
mountain spruce stands.
Photo: U. Wasem (WSL)
In the past few years storms have ripped through the Swiss forests. Since hurricane “Vivian” the commune of Schwanden in the Canton of Glarus is now looking at new ways of forest management. In 2001 they received the Binding Forest Award.
Over 16 years ago the winter storm "Vivian" ripped through Switzerland and destroyed large areas of forests. The protection forests of the commune of Schwanden also suffered under hurricane gusts, which blew down a fifth of all trees. "70,000 cubic metres of wood lay on the ground, 30 times more than a normal years felling" recalls Thomas Rageth, cantonal district forest manager responsible for Schwanden. "It did not make sense economically or ecologically to clear all windthrow areas and to afforest", says Rageth, "we had to think of something new."
Experience has shown that a cantonal forestry official who questions commune convention can only implement new ideas with the support of the local inhabitants. This was very difficult for Käthi Kamm who was responsible for the forest in the local council at the time of "Vivian". The council had to learn to listen to the foresters before they could decide on a plan of action.
When several years later the bark beetles attacked the ravished forests, the foresters left many dead trees standing instead of clearing them away as usual. Schwanden also saw opportunities due to the storm: they re-structured their forest management and merged with neighbouring communes. Where formerly three regional foresters had been responsible there was now only one supported by forest workers. The experts had a difficult job in the beginning, because they not only had to clean up the chaos in the forest, but also to explain the new forest management practices to the locals. "We had our hands full", says local forester Adolf Tschudi today, "but we had achieved our goal: the young forest growing all around here now consists of more deciduous trees than before."
The measures taken by the forest service in the damaged forest were for the most part unusual and unpopular. In many places the thrown timber was used as usual but in other places it was left lying where it was. For many this was pure sacrilege. One of the untouched areas then became part of a research project which the Canton of Glarus is carrying out together with the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) in Birmensdorf.
On the Gandberg near Schwanden one hundred hectares of dead trees were left standing, all killed by bark beetles. "We couldn’t afford to fetch the entire 20’00 dead trees out of the forest because of the danger of rock fall and avalanches," says Thomas Rageth. The local population realised this but had a problem with the idea of setting up a forest reserve. Should they allow themselves to be dictated to from above and not be able to set foot in the forest for the next fifty years? Rageth was able to convince the critics because Schwanden would not have made any profits from the forest during this time.
"In the forest reserve the primeval forest of tomorrow is developing", says Rageth "we can now see here, for the first time, how a forest regenerates naturally after a bark beetle infestation." He is expecting that amongst the standing tree skeletons a mixed forest, rich in species and structures, will develop, which can defy storms better than the former spruce forests. In a manner of speaking taking nature as a role model.
After the Christmas storm "Lothar" the Binding Foundation decided to present the Forest Award for 2001 to a forest owner who had restored his forest in an exemplary manner after the storm "Vivian" in 1990. The curatorship hoped their experiences would be an inspiration for the reforestation after Lothar.
On presenting the award, which comes with 200,000 Francs prize money, in Basel, Peter Bachmann, former Professor at the ETH in Zurich and President of the curatorship, said that the main reason the award winner had been chosen was that they had strategically realigned their forest operations and management. "In Schwanden this happened earlier and more consequently than in many other places due to the crisis situation", said Bachmann, "because of this Schwanden was open for daring solutions". As a consequence the foresters in the Canton of Glarus abstained from building six kilometres of road through the forest. "They questioned convention," said Bachmann, "and searched for answers to pressing questions in an exemplary way together with researchers", whose concepts were critically discussed and research thus stimulated. The crisis after the storm was used as a chance for a rethink in forest management.
With the money from the award Schwanden increased its environmental education for forest topics so that "people could better understand what processes occur after destruction in mountain forests", says the former Commune Councillor Käthi Kamm, who has been working towards this goal for more than eleven years.
The Binding Award
The Sophie and Karl Binding Foundation in Basel presents an award every year to a Swiss forest owner who breaks new ground in sustainable forest management. The foundation especially looks for projects with role model characteristics. The 14 former prize winners, for example, invested the prize money in projects which made their forests more resistant to natural hazards, promoted the biodiversity, improved the usage of thinned wood or built modern, wood fired central heating.
The Binding Forest Award, one of the most acclaimed awards in the European environmental arena, had in 2001 the theme, "forward looking handling of disturbances and crisis situations". The foundation has at its disposal over 4 million Francs annually and supports projects in the areas of environment, education, social issues and culture.