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Authorities warn of climate risks for Swiss forests

Forest in Canton Graubünden
A forest in the Swiss National Park near Zernez, canton Graubünden. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Forests in Switzerland have been badly affected by rising temperatures due to climate change, becoming weaker and more vulnerable to disease and forest fires. They must adapt to survive, the authorities warn.

“The forests as we know them, will soon be gone,” said Katrin Schneeberger, director of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) at a media conference in Coeuve in canton Jura on Thursday.

The event was held in a forest in the Ajoie region, which has been badly affected by extreme weather events. In recent years, drought, heatwaves, storms and late frosts have weakened trees, making them more vulnerable to pests and diseases. The risk of forest fires in Switzerland has also increased since 2018.

“The spruce, a typical symbol of the Jura Arc region, will largely disappear from the central Plateau region because it’s too hot,” said Schneeberger.

+ Switzerland’s forests of the future

Intense and repeated droughts have dried out soils and increased the annual mortality rates of major European tree species by up to 60% concluded a large international study in 2022.

These extreme events have had dramatic consequences on the forests of the Jura, where hundreds of hectares of beech trees died in 2019. 

Swiss forests must adapt if they are to remain an “essential resource for life”, said Schneeberger. The problem is that the pace of global warming is outstripping the natural ability of the forest ecosystem to adapt, so “it’s up to us, as humans, to intervene to help,” she added.

Protected forests are also threatened by this phenomenon. So, the canton and the federal authorities have identifiedExternal link priority areas for action and numerous measures, said Stefan Müller, president of the Appenzell Inner Rhodes government.

The first priority is to rejuvenate viable forests in a sustainable manner, the second is to maintain the stability of climate-sensitive trees and finally to ensure the safety of forest users.

“But this transition is only possible through modern forest management, silvicultural measures and the commitment of owners and professionals,” concluded Jura Environment Minister David Eray.

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