Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Vienna
Public interest in the preservation of forests in general and in the preservation and amelioration of individual, special forest functions - such as the protection or beneficial function in particular - is growing constantly in the mountainous country of Austria.
As early as the 1975 Forest Act the multiple forest functions were considered in a foresighted manner. In forest land use planning these multiple functions are presented and evaluated for the whole territory.
Section II of the Austrian Forest Act, as amended, regulates tasks and scope of forest land use planning. As the forest area in Austria is 46 percent of the total area, Austria attaches great importance to forest land use planning. With the forest function plan finalized for the whole territory in 1991, and the endangered zone maps of the Forest Technology Service for Torrent and Avalanche Control, Austrian land use planning has created an important basis for forest and land use policy decisions.
2. THE FOREST FUNCTION PLAN
2.1 Scope and content
For the preparation of the forest function plan the entire Austrian forest area was divided into individual planning areas, which, as a rule, coincide with the political districts. For these planning areas the provincial forest authorities established 87 partial forest function plans, consisting of a text and a map. These are submitted by the Provincial Governor to the Federal Minister of Agriculture and Forestry for approval.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry examines the partial plans, which subsequently become effective with the signature of the Minister. With this the forest function plan is directed to the authorities. It remains valid for 10 years and before expiry it has to be revised and submitted again for approval.
The function areas are determined on the basis of leading functions defined in the Forest Act. The minimum size of an identified function area is 10 ha. The respective leading function of such an area is that function which is, from the viewpoint of the forest authority, the most important one and which is substantiated by the 1975 Forest Act. Furthermore, it can be differentiated between medium and minimal importance.
On the basis of the Forest Act, the following leading functions are defined:
- production function: the economically sustainable production of the raw material, timber;
- protection function: protection against elemental hazards (security of living space in the Alpine region), preservation of soil resistance against erosion;
- beneficial function: climatic balance, purification and regeneration effect upon air and water;
- recreational function: of particular importance in the vicinity of conurbations.
2.2 Forestry practice
The forest function plan is designed to form the basis for the enforcement of the Forest Law (self-commitment of forest authority decisions) and among other aspects plays an important part in substantiating and implementing forestry expertise, as, for example, in connection with official clearing procedures to erect lifts for winter sports, power plants, energy transmission lines, motorways and other public roads, etc.
But it is increasingly used also for the regional and supra-regional planning of forestry measures to improve the state of forests. Main subjects of forest land use planning are the forest/game problem, measures against forest damage from air pollution, protection against erosion in mountainous and lowland areas as well as the separation of forests and pastures.
The provincial concepts to improve the protection effect of forests are also based on forest function plan data. In the whole country, 160 000 ha of protection forests urgently need measures to preserve and improve the protection effect of mostly over-aged and poorly regenerated stands.
Together with the Forest Technology Service for Torrent and Avalanche Control the forest authority will elaborate and implement detailed projects for the areas.
2.3 Tourist activities
Moreover, the forest function plan increasingly serves as a basis for tourist activities. Especially in the traditional tourist areas forests are considerably polluted. In this case the leisure-time activities not only of the holiday-makers but also of the resident population - the intensity of which is growing rapidly - need to be separated in terms of time and space in order not to overstrain the living space forest. The interest of the public in mountain biking, parasailing, rafting, and deep snow skiing in the forest is frequently in complete contrast to the interests of the land owners, the "mere" wanderers, the recreation-seekers, and the hunters.
In some cases, special plans of forest land use planing already form the basis for a conciliation of interests between tourism, forest owners and lift companies (Schladming/Ennstal).
In view of Austria's accession to the EU, concepts to afforest marginal farmland in largely underforested regions (Pannonian northeast of the country) are emerging.
3. AN EVALUATION PLAN FOR MULTIFUNCTIONAL FORESTS
Lastly it should be noted that, based on forest land use planning and in cooperation with others who are involved, it is necessary to establish an evaluation system for the multifunctional performance of forests, in order to compensate forest owners by means of transfer payments for additional work and management difficulties, arising from such functions, which are in the public interest. This mainly applies to the protection of settlement areas, to the provision of drinking water, and to the recreational function in the vicinity of conurbations.