Increasing carbon sinks through forest management: a model-based comparison for Switzerland with its Eastern Plateau and Eastern Alps


The Kyoto Protocol brought a new forest function into focus: forests as carbon sinks. This new forest function may lead to new conflicts, because on the one hand, Switzerland has decided to account for forest management under Kyoto Protocol (Article 3.4), and on the other hand, Swiss Forestry statistics and the Swiss National Forest Inventory indicate that increasing amounts of wood are being harvested. This trend seems likely to continue. In this study, we used the empirical forest model MASSIMO and the soil model YASSO to analyse four different forest management scenarios. These scenarios basically feature different levels of harvesting frequencies and different rotation length, as well as their impact on regional potentials for carbon sequestration and harvesting amounts. Results were analysed both for the whole of Switzerland and for two very different regions: The Swiss Eastern Plateau and the Swiss Eastern Alps. The results indicate that Swiss forests can provide an increasing amount of harvested wood (+18% in relation to the base year 1996) for approximately 20 years and act as a carbon sink accountable under the Kyoto Protocol (0.5 million tons carbon per year). The corresponding forest management strategy aims for a sustainable and harvestable increment and may, therefore, avoid spurious carbon maximization in forests that can happen by accounting for only forest systems, and not for the effect of substitution of non-wood products and fossil fuels by forest products. The regional results indicate that (1) the carbon sink effect of Alpine forests in Switzerland might be limited, because generally, Alpine forests have low growth and yield and (2) a large increase in harvesting may lead to regional carbon sources and necessitate regional monitoring of increment to avoid overexploitation. As MASSIMO does not include the impacts of climate change, the conclusions of this study cannot be interpreted as actual predictions into the future but portray the impact of the applied management actions on the respective trends in carbon stocks and stock changes. They are, therefore, a contribution to support future management decisions. Further studies should focus on interactions with additional forest functions such as the preservation of biodiversity, increase the consideration of forest damage and account for the effect of climate change.

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This study was funded by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment FOEN. We thank Silvia Dingwall for the language revision. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Correspondence to Esther Thürig.

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Communicated by R. Matyssek.

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Thürig, E., Kaufmann, E. Increasing carbon sinks through forest management: a model-based comparison for Switzerland with its Eastern Plateau and Eastern Alps. Eur J Forest Res 129, 563–572 (2010).

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  • Kyoto Protocol
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Forest modelling
  • Switzerland