Resilient forests: Managing forests in a changing climate

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Words by: Dr Claire Feniuk, CEC Conservation Project Manager

Forests are managed for a wide range of important reasons – to protect and enhance biodiversity, reduce bushfire risk, create opportunities for tourism and recreation and make use of forest products like firewood to name a few. But forests and forest biota around Australia are facing many pressures, such as more intense and frequent bushfires, drought stress, ongoing impacts of historic timber harvesting practices and introduced pests. Climate change is rapidly exacerbating these challenges, driving changes in forest structure and biodiversity.

There is growing understanding amongst the scientific community, land managers and Traditional Owners of Forest Country that in order to build resilience now and in the future, there is an urgent need to review and adapt current approaches to forest management and forest health.

The Department of Energy Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) has funded the ‘Climate Resilient Forests – Adaptation Pathways Pilot’ to support a local approach to learning about active forest management, in partnership with the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC) and Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (EMAC), and in collaboration with key local and government stakeholders.

Focusing on the foothill forests of the Otways, the Resilient Forests project seeks to develop a shared view on what healthy forest country looks like and how land managers can respond to the changing climate, developing alternative pathways to manage forests for multiple objectives into the future.

This is an exciting collaborative project aimed at bringing together different perspectives and challenging our thinking about how forests could and should be managed to make them more resilient to climate change. The Conservation Ecology Centre is leading work on an extensive knowledge review to consolidate our understanding of active management options for the foothill forests of the Otways, and to identify key gaps in our knowledge with the aim of shaping future research. Alongside this, we are working to pilot the use of an analytical framework spearheaded by CSIRO called ‘Adaptation Pathways’ which aims to explore the efficacy of these alternative management options in the face of a changing climate. This is an exciting opportunity to test and refine that approach in the context of a complex socio-ecological system like the foothill forests of the Otways, and to share our insights with other regions exploring similar challenges.