Study highlights key influences on future wood supply

Teaming Up 4 Forests, a science-business platform connecting stakeholders across the forest value chain, has released a report, ‘Europe’s wood supply in disruptive times’. The study captures the factors identified in numerous scientific studies influencing wood supply from European forests. It outlines the impacts of climate change and also considers other factors, such as political uncertainties and a fragmented forest landscape.

Bridging the gap between science and policy, it highlights practical implications and response measures for the wood-based industry, forest management and policymakers. The study compiles findings of a wide range of scientific papers and research.

The study author team comprised of forest scientists and experts across Europe. Dr Metodi Sotirov from University of Freiburg (Germany), chaired the study team and says, “Although this is an evidence-based publication with a strong scientific component, it aims to inform decision-makers that operate mainly outside scientific and academic circles, and to contribute to bridging the gap between science, business and stakeholders in the forest and wood-based sector.”

Challenges for forests and the wood-based industry
Forests in Europe are strongly affected by climate change, with far-reaching consequences for forest health and ecosystem services including the supply of wood. Tree species of great commercial importance are significantly impacted by disturbances such as extreme drought events, bark beetle infestation, and frequent heatwaves and wildfires. Forests and wood-based industries also face other challenges such as political uncertainties and a fragmented forest landscape caused by alterations in land use and wildfires, among others.

Consideration of different tree species
With forests being highly sensitive to climate change and significantly impacted by disturbances such as drought or heat, forest owners and managers are urged to take adaptive measures. “We need more mixed and structurally diverse forests, including natural regeneration and active assisted migration of species that are more adapted to future climates,” says study author Dr Manfred Lexer from University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Austria). “In European forests that are available for wood supply we have six dominant tree species: pine, spruce, fir, beech, oak, and birch. Spruce, beech and pine are among the most vulnerable species, especially to drought.”

For example, the forest area in Europe suitable for Norway spruce will decrease by about 50 per cent depending on different climate change scenarios, while the suitability for other species will increase significantly. For the wood-based sector, which relies on the sufficient availability of woody biomass, it is key to gradually move away from the current strong dependency on softwoods (such as spruce and pine) and consider the production of new value-added wood-based products. Emerging products such as wood-based plastics, textile fibres or nanofibrillated cellulose for packaging, for example, are less dependent on certain tree species than traditional products.

Transition to bioeconomy and use of technology
Study authoir, Dr Anne Christine Ritschkoff from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., says, “In view of these challenges and a growing demand for wood-based products, forest-based industries in Europe will need to reflect their current business models. Technological and digital innovation, as well as a cascading use of wood is driving the transition towards a circular economy and supports the adaptation to future changes in wood supply. The future of research and innovation should be focused on the holistic and resource-efficient use of wood materials.”

The role of forest ownership
Other factors impacting the supply of wood include forest ownership and demographic changes among landowners. While there are differences in forest ownership between European regions, the share of private forest ownership has increased since the early 1990s, with 56 per cent of European forest area privately owned. In addition, private ownership has become more heterogeneous with more non-traditional, urban or passive owners. This often leads to less interest or capacity among forest owners to supply wood to the market.

Study author, Dr Špela Pezdevšek Malovrh from the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), says, “Wood harvesting and profit maximisation are not the only – or even the primary – motivation for many forest owners and, therefore, are not the main goal of their management practices. Therefore, it will be important for policymakers to implement initiatives that engage and incentivise private forest owners.”

Policies to promote sustainable forest management
These factors affecting forests and wood supply need corresponding policy responses at different levels from global to local, particularly a better harmonisation and integration of policies that promote sustainable forest management practices. Quite importantly, strategic investments in research and innovation are needed to develop integrated, sustainable wood supply strategies and technologies that can adapt to changing circumstances, including the regionalisation of supply chains and evolving market dynamics. This will support the development of wood supply strategies and technologies to ensure adaptation and resilience of European forests to climate change in the long-term.

Joint measures to secure a future wood supply
To successfully navigate the uncertainties and changes ahead, cooperation and partnerships are paramount for the future of wood supply in Europe. Interdisciplinary, transnational, and cross-sectoral collaborations facilitate the implementation of successful strategies and can guide the wood-based industry towards innovation, adaptability, and resilience amid evolving challenges. Beyond cooperation, the study shows that education and communication within and outside the forest-based sector are crucial for sustainable forest management and engaging future generations.

Read the study, Europe’s wood supply in disruptive times


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