France is losing its forests due to climate change

Participants at the COP15 summit on desertification and deforestation, which opened in Ivory Coast this week, are focusing on action to limit climate impacts in places like the hardest-hit African continent. However, there is also growing concern about forests in countries that may be closer to home, including France.

The National Forestry Office (ONF) says France has lost more than 300,000 hectares of public forests since 2018. Scientists attribute much of the damage to climate change, which causes drought conditions that stress trees, making it more vulnerable to insect and insect damage. causing more frequent forest fires.

It seems there is no end in sight. Météo France said on Sunday that precipitation is down 35% across the country, with 10 municipalities on alert. This poses additional challenges for trees, as well as drinking water resources and agriculture.

“Almost all the territories are affected”, explains Olivier Rousset of the ONF about the current forest conditions. “All species are concerned, hardwoods and softwoods. The first affected are those that need the most water, such as the beech, the emblematic species of our forests”.

France also loses other trees

In the forest of Tronçais, department of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, between 15% and 20% of the trees of century-old oak forests die before reaching maturity. Fir trees are the most affected in the Grand Est, in the northeast of the country.

Rousset, Deputy Director General of the ONF, explains that adaptation is essential because forests can no longer cope with these changes alone. His agency seeks to minimize ecological impacts, including carbon sequestration and habitat loss, but also economic changes for forest industries.

Foresters will need to consider other tree species and anticipate where trees will survive in the future climate, often using technological tools like the ClimEssences app.

“We are returning to the former vocation of public foresters: to intervene more, when necessary, by relying on natural processes and, if necessary, by resorting to planting”, explains Rousset.

This may mean fewer beech trees, which are particularly susceptible to climate impacts across Europe. Its growth is more severely restricted in the southern regions where the tree grows, but a recent study published in the journal Communications Biology sees widespread declines across Europe.

other research

Led by scientists in Germany and Spain, it looked at trends in beech species in Europe from 1955 to 2016 and found declines everywhere except Denmark, Norway, Sweden and in the high mountains.

When they modeled projected losses under various future climate scenarios, they found reductions in beech growth in southern Europe of up to 30% by 2050, even under the most optimistic climate scenario. This includes parts of France and Germany.

“Projected growth changes for the 21st century across Europe indicate serious ecological and economic consequences that require immediate adaptation of forests,” the authors conclude.

The NFB is working on these adaptation measures, including assisted migration. For 10 years, they have been carrying out an experiment in the Grand Est, planting 7,000 beeches and oaks in the south of France to see if they adapt and reproduce to the adjusted climate.

ONF foresters won’t know the answers to these questions for 70 years.

“Now, we must consider a different management in an ‘uncertain’ context”, explains Xavier Bartet, deputy director of research at the ONF. “The task may seem daunting because we really need to rethink our forest management.”

By Lauren Fagan Articles in English

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