Forests and the forestry sector


Although France¿s forest resources (15.3 million hectares) are among the largest in Europe, forests and other wooded land account for less than a third (just under 28 percent) of the country¿s land area, a smaller proportion than the European average. The main wooded regions are the Massif Central, the Alps, the Jura, the Vosges, Alsace-Lorraine and the Landes massif in the southwest, where the largest planted forest in Europe is found (established in the nineteenth century to stabilize dunes and produce gum). About two-thirds of standing timber are composed of deciduous species, predominantly oak (Quercus spp.) and beech (Fagus sylvatica), although many other species are also found, especially hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), poplar (Populus spp.) and chestnut (Castanea spp.). Pines (Pinus spp.), spruce (Picea spp.), silver fir (Abies alba) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia, an introduced species) are the most common conifers.

Most of the forests are available for supplying wood and about half of them are high canopy, while the rest are divided between coppices and coppices-with-standards. Forests are steadily encroaching on former agricultural land, partly because of natural expansion and partly because of planting. The net increase is considerably higher than the volume felled, so that the volume of standing stock is growing. The majority of forests are classified as semi-natural, with a relatively small proportion of plantations and very few stands undisturbed by human activities.

A quarter of the country¿s forests are public, with ownership divided among the State, communes and municipalities. Ownership of nearly all the remainder is divided among several million individuals, although some forests belong to private institutions. Apart from wood production, other important forest functions are hunting, recreational activities, the gathering of non-wood forest products, and soil protection in mountain zones.

Products and trade
France has a large and growing forest industry, but is a net importer of softwood sawnwood and paper. It is the largest European producer of hardwood sawnwood. The sawnwood industry is more or less self-sufficient with regard to raw materials, but the paper industry is highly dependent on imported pulp. Consumption levels of forest products are close to the European averages.

France is one of the world¿s main producers of walnuts and truffles. Other important non-wood forest products are berries, medicinal plants, honey, game, pine gum and ornamental plants.

In 1997, 41 percent of the paper and cardboard consumed in France was recycled (4.3 million tonnes out of a total of 10.3 million) and the recycled material made up 49 percent of pulpmill consumption.

Thirty-six million wooden pallets are repaired and put back on the market for reuse, representing 65 percent of the total national stock. Those working in this sector signed a charter in March 1998.

The storms at the end of 1999 seriously affected the forestry sector, with long-term consequences. More than 450 000 ha had more than 50 percent of their cover destroyed. In mid-January 2000, the French Government launched its National Windfall Plan with the aim of removing as much wood as possible from these forests in the first year in order to facilitate regeneration and reduce the risks of fire, insect pests and disease. State subsidies, amounting to some 90 million euros per year for the period 2000-2009, have been earmarked for assisting communes and private owners to clear and regenerate their forests.

Last updated: January 2004

last updated:  Thursday, January 14, 2016