Forests and the forestry sector


Forests cover about 47 percent of Austria¿s territory (3.9 million hectares) and provide important economic, environmental and socio-cultural benefits, from timber production to protective and recreational functions which directly or indirectly benefit the whole population. In the mountainous areas (the western two-thirds of the country is alpine), forests have an important role in protection against landslides and avalanches. Forest area per capita is well above the European average.

The forest area has shown a slightly increasing trend in recent decades as a result of natural extension onto agricultural land and afforestation in protected areas. Virtually all forest is considered semi-natural; there are small areas of undisturbed forest. Coniferous species (primarily Norway spruce, Scots pine, European larch and silver fir) make up more than four-fifths of the growing stock. Beech is the main broadleaf species.

The average volume of growing stock per hectare is among the highest in the world, and net annual increment is more than twice the European average. With fellings less than net annual increment, the volume of growing stock is increasing.

Increased air pollution caused by the economic growth of the past decades has resulted in a large-scale loss of vitality in Austrian forests. For the past ten years the improvement of the condition of the forests, in particular the restoration of their protective function, has been one of the main issues of the Austrian forest policy. In addition, close-to-nature silvicultural measures have been promoted to enhance biological diversity. Over the years the proportion of deciduous and mixed stands has also been increasing. More than four-fifths of the forest is privately owned, mostly by individuals, and private forest owners are well organized. However, the small-scale forest ownership structure and the highly mountainous terrain are serious obstacles to economic viability and financing of sustainable forest management.

A network of natural forest reserves, in which there is no direct human intervention, has been established. To ensure that these reserves can be realized, long-term service contracts have been concluded between the State and forest owners, which stipulate compensation for the tending of these areas and for the economic losses incurred.

Austria is one of the four main European producers of wood products for global markets (the others being Finland, Sweden and Germany). It produces large quantities of paper and sawnwood. The Austrian forest industry exports most of its production, although it relies partly on imported raw materials including roundwood, pulp and recovered paper. Austria is the fifth largest exporter of sawnwood in the world. The main export markets for sawnwood and paper are Italy and Germany. The wood processing industry is moving towards more value-added production such as skis and solid wood panel manufacturing.

Hunting is a major forest activity. Game and its meat, as well as mushrooms, fodder and Christmas trees, are important non-wood forest products in Austria.

Last updated: March 2004

last updated:  Thursday, January 14, 2016