Forestry Department, Ministry of Forestry, Water Management and Environment
Globalization of world trade, consumer-led quality requirements, EU-enlargement: these are the new realities and challenges facing European agriculture today. The changes will affect not only agricultural markets, but also local economies in rural areas. The future of the agricultural sector is closely linked to a balanced development of rural areas, which cover 80 percent of European territory. The community dimension in this relationship is therefore clear: agricultural and rural policy have an important role to play in the cohesion of EU territorial, economic and social policy. This perspective is made evident after the reform instituted in 1997 by Agenda 2000, which prepares the EU for enlargement. This reform places first and foremost the importance of the forest, of forestry and of less favoured areas (mountain areas, areas with handicaps, etc.). It is called the forest strategy, which insures the protection, sustainability and development of European forests.
For 2000–2006, the new policy makes provision for seven types of measures concerning: investment in farm businesses, human resources, less favoured areas, forests, processing and marketing of agricultural and forest based products, agro-environment and general rural development measures throughout the Community.
Austria is a rather small country, though it is one of the biggest exporters of softwood worldwide. (Austria ranks No. 6.) Prerequisites for that are vital forests (3.9 million ha [9 637 070 acres], 47 percent of Austria is covered with forests) and a booming forestry and wood industry.
The growing stock in Austria's forests amounts to 987 million m3 of timber. The annual increment runs to 30 million m3 but only 19 million m3 of the yield is used. As you can see, the Austrian forestry industry is prepared for a rising demand in timber. Long lasting experience, progressive education and research, as well as a restrictive forest law are the guaranty for the principle of sustained yield in forestry.
This policy seems very successful, and the annual Austrian forest survey affirms this. The health of our forests has now stabilized, mixed forests are increasing, and the forest areas are spreading. Moreover, the natural ecology in our forests is nearly pristine, and biodiversity is secured despite, or rather because of, management for generations. These are examples of an interlocking between economy and ecology.
Primary forests are very rare in Austria. Landscape and even forests are influenced by man and his cultivation. The silvicultural structure and the natural combination of tree species depend on cultivation and the natural habitat. The main tree species are spruce (56 percent) and beech (9 percent).
Private ownership prevails in the Austrian forests: 80 percent of the forests are privately owned by 170 000 owners, the average size of a holding is 19 ha (47 acres), and there are 30 000 with less than 3 ha.
Sustainable forest management has many other effects that are guaranteed by the Austrian Forest Law. The main ones are production, protection, recreation, and beneficial and environmental effects. Usually a forest area provides more than one effect at the same time, and that's the main characteristic of the multifunctionality of Austrian forests. An overview is given by the forest development plan: production amounts to 64 percent, protected levels out at 31 percent.
Protected forests are very important in our country. Seventy percent of Austria's total area is considered “mountain area” according to European Union definitions. More than 3 million people, which are 38 percent of Austria's population, live in these areas. The preservation of the development area has a strong connection to the condition of the forests - stability and health are of primary importance. In part, our protected forests are over-aged and in a not very satisfactory condition. This needs a special forest policy but, in the meantime, special management activities have started, and they are stimulated by subsidies. An important role is also played by the Forest Engineering Service in Torrent and Avalanche Control.
Another strategy to keep our forests vital and healthy is the support of the steady supply of high quality wood and lumber. The lumber industry is after tourism (28.9 billion ATS - 1998) the second most important industry sector. It influences economic performance in a very strong way, as the surplus of 27.3 billion ATS (1998) illustrates. The forestry and wood industries guarantee 250 000 jobs.
Globalization, telecommunications and beneficial freight rates are new challenges for Austrian forestry. The lumber industry increases their demand for high quality raw wood and lumber, and supplies are ordered just in time. The problem is that on the other side the offers are difficult to mobilize. These forest cooperatives are founded to overcome disadvantages caused by the small-scale structures. They are created by private initiatives and stimulated by subsidies. Currently there are 300 forest cooperatives in place. Their goals are the efficient use of decreasing potential of labour, the improvement of financial success and the improvement of raw wood supply for the industry.
Experience and the success of our forestry policy are a requirement for the taking over of responsibility in international processes. Austria is head of the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe. In coordination and cooperation with other European countries we are creating indicators for sustainable silviculture, as well as guidelines for sustainable forestry in Europe.