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Ecosystems out of balance

Jan 30, 2019 / alpMedia
Storms, drought, floods, mudslides and avalanches: many Alpine regions were affected by extreme natural events in 2018. The first measures are already in place to ensure better management.
Image caption:
Welschnofen, Italy 2018: Windstorms can have massive ecological consequences. © seehauserfoto

Late October in the Italian Dolomites saw severe weather and storms, with wind speeds reaching 180 km/h. Millions of trees were flattened or uprooted, with immense losses to the forestry industry. Such windstorms also have numerous ecological consequences: thousands of hectares of carbon-retaining trees are lost, while pests can multiply in the deadwood and attack other plants. Such deadwood also offers more fuel for forest fires during the ever-drier summers. Once forests are uprooted, moreover, subsequent rainfall will often cause mudslides, while in winter the damage to protective forests increases the risk of unobstructed avalanches.
According to Robin Naumann, forestry scientist and project manager at CIPRA International, one solution could be mixed forests with widely differing structures and age categories: «Such mixed forests provide much better protection against extreme events than very homogeneous plantations. For profit reasons, however, monocultures such as pure spruce forests are often planted.» The EU project «AlpES – Alpine Ecosystem Services», completed in December 2018, drew attention to such issues as these. The aim is to strengthen the significance and appreciation of ecosystem services in the context of environmental policy.

What Alpine rivers have to do with management

Intact Alpine rivers form the basis of energy and water supplies in the Alps. A lengthy drought with consequent massive fish deaths, including in the Alpine Rhine, was followed in autumn 2018 by floods that caused enormous damage. In Carinthia and East Tyrol in southern Austria, for example, several rivers and streams burst their banks. Fallen trees and landslips blocked roads, while whole valleys and villages were cut off for days from the outside world: the control structures of many streams were also damaged. Events like these make it clear that it is not only technical measures that are required to ensure protection against such flooding, which also often adversely affects the river ecology. The 3-year EU project «SPARE – Strategic Planning for Alpine River Ecosystems», concluded in 2018, thus developed and tested methods for holistic river management in pilot regions across the Alpine region. The project took account of such aspects as the ecological condition of watercourses, the structural diversity of the riverbed and bank areas, as well as of nature-based flow dynamics.


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