Carolyne Locher reports on the ICF National Conference 2021, an online event gathering a wide range of speakers.

THE Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) National Conference 2021 was a one-day event focusing on the science and art of forestry and an understanding of the fundamentals, including site selection, soils, species choice and silvicultural practices that underpin the successful creation and management of woodlands.

ICF president Sharon Durdant-Hollamby welcomed 245 online attendees to the day, with thanks to sponsors Tilhill, Maelor Forest Nurseries and Tree Plotter Software Suite. She said: “People are looking to us, the tree professionals, for climate-smart solutions for forestry.

Forestry Journal: International forestry experts, researchers and practitioners contributed to the conference, looking at what’s currently being done well, what could be done better and how professional foresters can adapt their skillsets to prepare for the future demands of our sector.International forestry experts, researchers and practitioners contributed to the conference, looking at what’s currently being done well, what could be done better and how professional foresters can adapt their skillsets to prepare for the future demands of our sector.

“Working at a macro or micro scale, it is no longer about ‘what have we got’, ‘what are we taking out’, or ‘what are we planting’. It is about ‘services’ and the ‘multitude of benefits’ that trees will provide in the future, and relaying that information, informed by science, to the public. We must be smart about planning and managing forests for climate change, and act now.”

Event host Dr Gary Kerr, principal silviculturist at Forest Research, defines climate-smart forestry (a phrase coined by Professor Gert-Jan Nabuurs at Paris COP21) as “a targeted approach or strategy, to increase the climate benefits from forests and the forest sector in a way that creates synergies with other needs related to forests.”

He said: “We must seek to maximize those benefits and understand the implications for other legitimate objectives, such as biodiversity, landscape and recreation.  As professionals, we must understand climate-smart forestry.”


Forestry Journal:

Forest scientist Jürgen Bauhus, professor of silviculture at Freiburg University’s Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, presented ‘Adaptation needs and options for forests and forestry in Germany’, with some background on forests and climate-smart forestry (CSF).

Forests cover 31 per cent of the earth’s surface and contain 80 per cent of all terrestrial species and 75 per cent of all fresh water. They provide solutions to four of the seventeen UN sustainable development goals.

Climate-smart forestry is defined – CSF: (1) increases carbon storage in forests and wood products while providing other ecosystem services; (2) enhances resilience and adaptive capacity through active forest management (unlikely to occur naturally considering the rapid pace of climate change); (3) provides for the sustainable use of wood resources as a substitute for carbon-intensive non-renewable materials.

Extreme drought (2018–20) has seen European forests actually emitting CO2. 200 million m³ of timber has been salvaged and 277,000 ha need reafforestation, costing the sector an estimated 12.8 billion euros, or 10 times the net revenue during normal times.
Professor Bauhus said: “Adaptation not only relates to the provision of ecosystems and services, but also to the enterprises and institutions that make them available to the rest of society.”

Short- and long-term silvicultural adaptation options include: (1) increasing drought tolerance through thinning (short-term); (2) changing species composition with native or introduced species (long-term); (3) introducing mixed-species (no more than 25% of one) and structurally diverse stands (long-term), which can survive ‘disturbances’. Future climate stability is unlikely and adaptation will be continuous process.

Many (smaller) forest owners have little economic capacity to adapt. It is federal governments that sign up to climate treaties. “We propose rewarding the adaptive capacity of forests. Full payments for highly resilient stands with adaptive capacity, and subsidies for those in transformation, funded by the Energy and Climate Fund, CO2 Emissions Certificates or revenues from Carbon Tax and a Climate Protection Programme (2022/200 million euros) for climate mitigation through forestry.  It is a simple solution, but we need simple solutions.”


Forestry Journal:

In Session 2, ‘Progress with climate-smart demonstration sites in the Netherlands’, Gert-Jan Nabuurs, professor of European forest resources at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said European forests hold a carbon sink of 450 million tonnes (MT) CO2 (10 per cent of emissions); a wood product sink of 44 MT (including substitution); and biomass from bioenergy provides 7–9 per cent of total EU energy needs. Implementing CSF measures could add 400 MT of C02 sequestration (or substitution).

Forests cover 370,000 ha (11 per cent) of the Netherlands. Medium-aged black and Corsican pine is exported to Germany (few sawmills currently operate in the Netherlands) and with few ‘reserves’, ‘nature forests’ are important. 

He said: “Following COP21, we launched an ‘Action Plan Forest and Wood’ aimed at creating 37,000 ha of new forest.  As a result, the ‘Dutch Climate Accord’ (2017) includes forestry measures, increasing the carbon sink (currently +4.5 MT CO2) by 0.8 MT per year. Under a stringent ‘Green Deal’, the entire land sector (including agricultural animals) must become carbon neutral by 2035.”

In 2008, a government-funded CSF programme began with three aims: ‘More Forest’; ‘Better Forest’; ‘More with Wood’. 

Pilot projects cover a range of sites and alternative management strategies (differing systems for differing circumstances). Scots pine and spruce growing on dry, sandy soils have been under-planted with mixed species (genetically-selected provenances) and monitored. On a 50 ha reserve with fertile soils, Douglas fir keeps growing and storing carbon. Growing trials of linden trees (improving soil litter layers) found the average soil carbon stocks in the mineral and litter layer of forest inventory plots were 207 tonnes of CO2 per ha – more than expected.  The project has prompted the first ‘Dutch Forest Strategy’ for 25 years, with six young people hired to implement it. 

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Encompassing more than carbon and being locally specific, CSF has been well received by landowners. The changing climate and media images of drought-stricken forests stripped bare by beetles have increased public support for sequestering an additional 0.8 MT CO2.

Large-scale implementation of the project is yet to happen.  They are currently getting an idea of the costs and monitoring issues.


Forestry Journal:

Posing the question, ‘What does the REINFFORCE (REsource INFrastructures for monitoring, adapting and protecting european atlantic FORests under Changing climatE) project teach us about managing existing and planting new forest in the UK?,’ Christophe Orazio, director of the European Institute of Cultivated Forests, in Bordeaux, France outlined early stage (4–5 year) results. 

The REINFORCE network (38 arboreta and 41 demonstration plots throughout Europe) covers the full range of atlantic climates (temperatures of 11–17 degrees with precipitation between 500 and 2,000 mm), from northern UK down to southern Portugal.

Working cooperatively, they assess tree species performance and the effectiveness of adaptive management under future climate scenarios.

Each arboretum site contains two plots. One continues with ‘business as usual,’ the other with adaptive management techniques (or damage-assessment protocols following extreme events) such as changing soil preparations to examine impacts on soil water capacity, and manipulating soil carbon content to improve water capacity, or changes in thinning regimes. The same genetic material is planted in all plots.

At a species level, the survival and growth rates of conifers Scots, Corsican, stone and loblolly pine did well, as did broadleaf sessile, pendunculate and cork oak. Seven species - holm oak, incense cedar, oriental beech, cork oak, and Weymouth, loblolly and stone pines – all exceeded expectations. 

UK sites are focusing on under-planting Douglas fir and Sitka spruce to determine if regeneration is more efficient when under-planted or in open areas.  Overall, early results indicate Douglas fir grows best in the UK.

Provenances ‘Oregon’, ‘Washington’ and ‘Luzette’ (from France’s main commercial seed orchard) fared best, ‘Luzette’ showing strong growth across all REINFORCE sites. Results are updated at Year 10.


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Dr Chris Swanston, Forest Service Climate Advisor for the USDA Forest Service, looked at ‘Climate Adaptation and Carbon Management; Approaches in US Forests’.

US forest ownership differs from coast to coast. In the West, federally-owned and -operated land is interspersed with tribal and private ownership. In the East, family-owned land dominates, interspersed with state and corporate timber investment lands.

 “Ecosystems and management choices are different,” said Dr Swanston

“‘Adaptation’ is the adjustment of systems (human organisations, ecosystems, infrastructure) in response to climate change. Adjustments are ‘intentional’, translating ‘values’ and ‘risk tolerance’ into actions that enhance a system’s ability to cope with change and meet the goals and objectives in that system. Think ‘how do my choices work across a plausible range of future climates’?

“The framework often used is ‘Resistance, Resilience and Transition (or Transformation/Response)’. Resistance and resilience are about persistence. Transition generates change now in anticipation of climate change.”

Carbon sequestration in the West’s forest resource is unstable. In 2020, 46,000 fires have razed 2.4 million ha and entire towns. Some fires have been so severe the forest type may convert. “Considering adaptation, we are in survival mode.”

Responses could include fuel reduction treatments now (removing remaining trees that are more susceptible to drought, pathogens, pest and fire stresses) to sequestering carbon in the longer term. If they had capacity and funding, further responses could include replanting faster. The Presidential budget, currently before Congress, proposes large increases in funding for treatments across federal and tribal lands.

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“Adaptation planning depends on the ecosystem itself, values, objectives, climate pressure, risk tolerance and the capacity to change (through funding). Many try to balance this all at once, with mixed results.”

Planning ‘adaptation’ is a series of considered processes. One tool used is the USFS Climate Change Response Framework (

“There are many tools. The best is your judgement. Climate-informed choices are those you may not want make. Climate-smart choices may not be the ones you get, being driven into others by law or stakeholders.  The key is identifying the risks and being clear when communicating. Ecological integrity is what we ‘do’. Learn by doing and share what you learn.”


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In Session 5, ‘Adaptive silviculture for Climate Change in the US’, Linda Nagel, professor of silviculture and department head of forest and rangeland stewardship at Colorado State University, acknowledged the university occupies land that is the traditional ancestral homeland of the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Ute nations and peoples.

Colorado, a mountainous state, contains 65% rangelands and 35% forests. During the last twenty years, Colorado has seen higher temperatures, reoccurring drought, spruce beetle and mountain pine beetle outbreaks (mountain pine beetle affecting 80% of 3.4 million acres of ponderosa and high elevation lodgepole pine) and increasingly frequent, larger and more severe wildfires at all forest elevations. In 2020, two fires alone consumed 400,000 acres of forest. Changes in the snow pack, snowmelt timing and variable summer precipitation add to the stresses, resulting in landslides, mud flows, flash-flooding and deaths.

Colorado has a history of bio-suppression, and the growing population (6 million) has increasing expectations of the forests. Compound disturbances affect the forests’ ability to recover (a decade or longer), sometimes converting to other forest types, or other ecosystems regenerate in their place.

Underway for 10 years, the Adaptive Silviculture project has sites across the US and two in Canada. Treatments vary from site to site, accommodating differing forest ecosystems, management objectives and goals relevant to the local land base.

Professor Nagel said: “Using an adaptive management process (USFS Climate Change Response Framework), we: define an area; assess climate change impacts; evaluate management objectives; identify actions that meet management goals; monitor; and repeat, while testing adaption options using ‘Resistance, Resilience and Transition’ (RRT): Resistance (keep ecosystems static); resilience (allow a degree of change and return to the prior condition with improved vigour, health and vegetation management following a disturbance); transition, a treatment often pushing people outside their comfort zone, facilitating active change towards differing future scenarios, promoting native species predicted to do well but also incorporating non-native species using processes like assisted migration.”

The San Juan National Forest is a warm, dry, low-elevation forest type (ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, white fir, aspen and gamble oak). Climate concerns include variable precipitation patterns (slope and aspect), earlier snowmelt, increased risk of wildfire and insect outbreaks. Historically, fires are frequent. Following biosuppression, the forest is dense and the fires more severe.

READ MORE: 5 vehicles Forestry Journal reviewed in 2021 every forestry worker needs to consider

Treatment options: Resistance: thin with even spacing. Resilience: reduce stand density with gaps to break up fuel load. Transition: open the canopy by 30 – 40 per cent creating park-like conditions, retain Ponderosa pine, aspen in clumps and remove all White fir. “Some found this hard to swallow.”

Colorado State Forest is a high elevation spruce/fir forest (Engelmann spruce, sub-alpine fir and lodgepole pine) with similar climate concerns, spruce and mountain beetle outbreaks. Historically, fires are infrequent.

Treatment options: Resistance: reduce stand density, release advance regeneration (same species). Resilience: Uneven-aged diverse structure, increase drought-tolerant species and genotypes (limber pine and Douglas fir).Transition:  uneven-aged with large openings transitioning to upper montaine forest with future-adapted species (Douglas fir, Ponderosa and blue spruce from lower elevations in Colorado). “This pushes outside the box of typical silviculture being considered.

“Trends focus on increasing species diversity, structural complexity, regeneration, increased multi-aged silviculture and more consideration for future-adapted species, including forest-assisted migration in some cases” (


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In Session 6, ‘Tree roots: insights into out-of-sight aspects,’ Dr Kasten Dumroese, senior plant physiologist and nursery specialist at the USFS in Rocky Mountain Research Station, in Idaho, talked about his work on root growth of ponderosa pines.

Root development and instability of a newly planted tree is evidenced by leaning or toppling and causing deformation as the tree tries to orient itself perpendicular to the ground.

He said: “We have talked about roots for a long time and will continue to, especially with regard to how sequestered carbon can be leveraged to mitigate climate change.” 

As a student, Dumroese worked alongside a colleague studying how coating the walls of containers with copper would affect root formation in the nursery. Copper was found to stop higher order lateral roots from spiralling, instead promoting the development of fibrous root systems. Copper block containers became commercially available.
Ponderosa seedlings from the copper container trials were planted out, the plots mapped and the trees left to grow. Thirty years later, five control pines and five root-pruned pines were excavated to see if the effect first noticed in the nursery had persisted.

“Treated trees were eight per cent taller than the controls (18 vs 16.7 metres) and their taproots stouter. We are not sure why. The long-term plasticity of the root system to ever-changing levels, locations and external forces likely overrides any early temporal effects by nursery treatments. Effects of copper root pruning were largely absent.”

They have yet to quantify fine root biomass with overall coarse root biomass data to quantify carbon concentrations. These findings could help sequestration modelling by providing data on ‘total’ amounts of the carbon sequestered by a single tree during a rotation.


Forestry Journal:

Professor Peter Freer-Smith from the department of plant sciences, University of California Davis, opened Session 7, ‘Forest management strategies to deliver climate and bioeconomy policies,’ with reference to two reports highlighting forest management intensification for carbon sequestration.

In 2017, it was thought forests overall contribute approximately 25 per cent of GHG reductions under the Paris Agreement.
From ‘Combating Climate Change: A Role for UK forests’ (2009), the first national assessment of forestry’s contribution to climate change, Freer-Smith highlighted the following:

“In forestry systems, carbon stored in the soil is (generally) thought to match the amount sequestered within the stands themselves although this varies (depending on soil-type) across the globe. Soil carbon diminishes during a first rotation. If managed with minimal disturbance at harvest, soil carbon content increases in subsequent rotations. The more soil is disturbed, the more carbon is released.”

Substituting forest products for other carbon-intensive materials contributes to carbon stocks, as does using wood products for biomass energy.

Enhanced afforestation – new plantings across 23,000 ha a year – would significantly increase rates of carbon removal from the atmosphere. From 2070, the amounts decline, due to age structure. “This can be remedied.”

Prior to the European Forestry Institute’s report ‘Plantation Forests in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities (2019), “we were asked whether European forestry was achieving its full potential to deliver environmental, social and economic policies and its mitigation potential (mitigation being additional to a predicted increase in demand for timber globally).”

Researching land-use impacts of five different forestry systems (varying intensities of management across one rotation) across Europe revealed that agricultural systems have a greater impact than forestry. When recalculated against LUI per production unit (1 m³ of timber), more intensively managed forest systems have the smallest land-use impact.

Carbon storage increases as management intensifies up to a certain level while biodiversity decreases as management increases. When factoring in ecosystem services, balance is needed.  “A mosaic approach (new generation plantations) of productive and non-productive areas (for biodiversity and ecosystem services) is one way to achieve this.”

Europe has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 and a New EU Green Deal (2020). Recent reports confirm the approach recommended by the UK in 2009. The Swedish Forest Estate combines active forest management with higher harvesting levels, and effective forest product utilisation provides more climate benefits than reducing harvest and storing carbon in the forest. “In time, unmanaged forests will become a source of carbon. If you increase the intensity of management, you continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere.”

ICF vice president Geraint Richards MVO FICFor closed the day, thanking ICF staff and members, host Gary Kerr and all the speakers.

He said: “The opportunities and challenges are there. If we’re to turn rhetoric into reality we need a fundamental understanding and appreciation of climate-smart forestry.”

Climate Smart Forestry 2021 is part one of two, with the Institute’s National Conference 2022 continuing the same theme from a practical perspective in April 2022 (a hybrid in-person/online event); it will be held at the Royal College of Surgeons in Glasgow.