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Hosting the 33rd session of the European Forestry Commission Working Party on the Management of Mountain Watersheds

Flood protection function of forests in mountain watersheds

14 October 2021, Traunkirchen, Austria. If you are located in the European region, you have surely been experiencing the chill weather changes and October rains that follow the end of the summer. In some cities and for some communities, these rains may be accompanied by risk of landslides, floods, avalanches, debris flow events and mudslides, especially in mountainous regions. These are some of the challenges faced by ecosystems and communities vulnerable to climate-related hazards of increasing magnitude and frequency.

Starting yesterday and until Friday, the 33rd session of the European Forestry Commission Working Party on the Management of Mountain Watersheds will address these and other issues related to watershed management. During its biannual sessions, the member countries and observers of this subsidiary body come together to revise the work on management of water resources, protective forests and disaster risks in mountain watersheds.

Co-organized by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, this hybrid session hosted by the municipality of Traunkirchen in Austria for those not joining online, will bring together European mountain stakeholders, such as national policymakers, technical services, international bodies, researchers and local authorities, all experts on their field to promote sustainable development in mountain watersheds.

This year´s session is focused on the importance and need for an integral approach to flood protection, as one of the many protective functions of forests. This topic is of particular interest to the Secretariat, hosted in FAO´S Resilient Watershed Management Programme, as it highlights the core objectives of the working party itself: the sustainable management of water resources, the recognition and assessment of protective forests and the approaches needed for disaster risk reduction in mountain watersheds.

This session will include the two-year overview of the activities of the Working party and its Working Groups, the country reports on efforts in flood protection, the Technical Conference “Integral approach to the flood protection effect of the forest with special consideration of water and sediment retention”, and the launch of the report The protective functions of forests in a changing climate - European experience, co-published by FAO and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism. You can find all the details in this year´s session programme.

This working paper, presents the policy and management approach of each member country on its protective forests. It collects the contributions from twelve member countries and their respective practices, legislation, history and experiences in relation to protective forests, and how this varies both geographically and culturally across Europe.

The report shows a variation in the characteristics of the protective forest system, with no uniform datasets or monitoring for protective forest cover in the EFC region. Aside these marked differences, each of the country reports included emphasizes the important role that protective forests play in mitigating the impacts of natural hazards, such as avalanches, debris flow events and mudslides, especially in mountainous regions.

This review of reports shows that mountain regions in Europe are facing common challenges and that different approaches can be learnt from each another. The publication has defined, characterized, and identified challenges inherent to protective forests in Europe’s mountains, and it is through their appropriate governance, management and planning that the forests are able to provide ecosystem services in a sustainable way.

The publication compiles the national reports presented during its last session in September 2019, presented as a collection of experiences regarding protective forests and mountain watershed management in their contexts. Thus, the launch of this publication is a tangible product of all the exchange of knowledge and dialogue produced during the meeting sessions of the Working Party.

During his welcoming remarks to the 33rd session, NFO Deputy Director Ewald Rametsteiner said that “Having these sessions and their outcomes functions as a call for action to address mountainous ecosystems. The working party should speak to its members, as governments to advocate for protective forests in international frameworks; to practitioners to facilitate research and produce guidelines that can be adapted for sustainable watershed management in other regions; and to researchers to close the gap to address socio-political questions in mountainous socio-ecosystems”.

For over five decades, the Working Party has successfully established dialogue among European mountain stakeholders, aiming at the development of a common vision on best practices to promote sustainable development in mountain watersheds. this session will not be the exception and will surely perform as a full platform to engage the national focal points, both policymakers and researchers, in order to advance the continuous improvement of watershed management.

last updated:  Thursday, October 14, 2021