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Combined forest and soil management after a catastrophic event


At the end of October 2018, a storm of unprecedented strength severely damaged the forests of the eastern sector of the Italian Alps. The affected forest area covers 42,500 ha. The president of one of the damaged regions asked for help from the University of Padua. After eight months of discussion, the authors of this article wrote a consensus text. The sometimes asper debate brought to light some crucial aspects: 1) even experienced specialists may have various opinions based on scientific knowledge that lead to conflicting proposals for action. For some of them there is evidence that to restore a destroyed natural environment it is more judicious to do nothing; 2) the soil corresponds to a living structure and every ecosystem’s management should be based on it; 3) faced with a catastrophe, people and politicians find themselves unarmed, also because they rarely have the scientific background to understand natural processes. Yet politicians are the only persons who make the key decisions that drive the economy in play and therefore determine the near future of our planet. This article is an attempt to respond directly to a governor with a degree in animal production science, who formally and prudently asked a university department called “Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry” for help before taking decisions; 4) the authors also propose an artistic interpretation of facts (uncontrolled storm) and conclusions (listen to the soil). Briefly, the authors identify the soil as an indispensable source for the renewal of the destroyed forest, give indications on how to prepare a map of the soils of the damaged region, and suggest to anchor on this soil map a series of silvicultural and soil management actions that will promote the soil conservation and the faster recovery of the natural dynamic stability and resilience.


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Our article would like to promote collaboration between politicians and scientists. We thank the Authorities we mentioned without consultation. Thank Valter and Doretta for the photographs-reports and testimonies which helped us understand the extent of the disaster and the seriousness of the loss for the families living in the mountains. Thank Vera and Roberto for reproducing “Scream of Vaia” which causes people a feeling of fear, and at the same time silent and powerful. Authors are particularly grateful to the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU) which supported the open access publication of the article.

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Correspondence to Augusto Zanella or Herbert Hager.

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Zanella, A., Ponge, JF., Andreetta, A. et al. Combined forest and soil management after a catastrophic event. J. Mt. Sci. 17, 2459–2484 (2020).

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Key words

  • Vaia storm
  • Wind damages
  • Soil organic carbon
  • Soil functioning
  • Humus form
  • Climate change