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Tasmania’s forest practices showcased in China

Article adapted from “FPA and landscape ecology in China” published in Forest Practices News Vol 11 No 1.

In August, two FPA Biodiversity staff, Sarah Munks and Anne Chuter, showcased Tasmania’s forest practices system at the International Association of Landscape Ecology (IALE) World Congress in Beijing, China. Landscape ecology is the study of variation in the landscape over multiple spatial and temporal scales. IALE is a framework that provides landscape ecologists across the world with a discussion platform and promotes interactions across many disciplines (e.g. visual landscape management, forest ecology and social sciences).

There has been rapid growth in the field of landscape ecology in recent years. This was highlighted by the attendance at IALE this year, which saw up to a thousand delegates from across the globe descend on Beijing for a week in August to exchange information and ideas relating to many aspects of landscape ecology, in particular, the interactions between people, culture and the environment.

The keynote speakers discussed the value of particular landscapes and highlighted the complex problems associated with trying to achieve sustainable landscape management.  A general message was that large-scale reservation is not always the answer, as this can lead to intensification of land-use activities in areas outside reserves. Sustainability is about achieving the right mix, integrating all ‘landscape values’ and being able to ‘sell’ these values to relevant stakeholders to achieve economically and socially acceptable outcomes.

The conference included a multitude of symposia covering a range of topics. Work by FPA staff was presented at the symposium “Application of landscape ecology in a Science–Practice interface”. This symposium focussed on issues related to taking theory and research outcomes and applying them in landscape management practices. Sarah and Anne presented information on landscape-scale management for biodiversity within the forest practices system through two talks that covered the management of tree hollows across the landscape in Tasmania, and monitoring the effectiveness of wildlife habitat strips in maintaining vegetation composition and structure.  Tasmania’s forest practices system stood out as a rare example of research being applied through policy to achieve on-ground results.

Some general messages relevant to landscape management came out of the work presented at the conference. These included:

  • the need to conduct scenario testing for proposed management actions to assess the constraints and opportunities (economic, social and ecological) across the landscape
  • simple, clear models are easier (than complex models) to interpret into policy and implement on the ground
  • how people value a particular landscape needs to be taken into account in the development of goals, as this can drive current management and change
  • the physical, social and economic values of landscapes have changed throughout history and this influences how people currently value the landscape
  • communication with relevant stakeholders is extremely important
  • care should be taken in using conservation strategies (such as REDD+) as a blanket approach to mitigate climate change—avoid trading natural and cultural values for carbon stocks.

The conference field trips took delegates out of the city and into rural areas, to see some of China’s eco-restoration projects. These were predominantly river wetland restoration projects aiming to develop a harmonious relationship between people and nature.  Delegates were told that the model project on the Yongding River focused on the problems of “dirty, less water, river chaos and riverbed seepage”.  Information provided on this eco-restoration project suggested that the project is a success, however there was no quantifiable evidence presented to show how it was successful, except for the local fisherman enjoying their relaxing morning on the river!

The conference tour also took delegates to a traditional Chinese village ‘Chaundixia’ situated on the side of a hill surrounded by forested mountains. The village is over 400 years old and listed under national level cultural relics protection. It is famous for its Ming and Qing dynasty–style houses which are still inhabited by approximately 70 families.  The village is now a popular tourist destination, where travellers can see ancient architecture and traditional culture.  The village is constructed in two ‘levels’, with steep narrow paths and steps connecting the upper and lower levels and winding between houses to create a maze-like feeling. After staggering in the heat to the highest point at the village, delegates grabbed a drink and soaked up the spectacular scenery – until they were rounded up by conference-tour volunteers and herded back to the bus!

The final destination on the conference trip was the Dongling Shan mountain forest landscape. The area is now protected from logging (last logged approximately 50 years ago) and isolated from human disturbance. The vegetation of the area is classified as warm temperate and dominated by broad-leaved forest (Quercus liaotungensis, Tilia spp, Ulmus spp. Acer Spp), pine woodlands (Pinus tabulaeformis) and larch woodland (Larix prinipis-rupprechtii).  The forest is reportedly species rich including 886 plant species, 43 mammal species and 1000 insect species.  It is also known as an Important Bird Area and a key site for conservation (BirdLife International 2009).  The area supports threatened bird species brown-eared pheasant (Crossoptilon mantchuricum) and grey-sided thrush (Turdus feae) and populations of nationally protected animals, including leopard (Panthera pardus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), weasel (Mustela sibirica) and Himalayan goral (Naemorhedus goral).  A walk along an altitudinal transect within the forest enabled the conference delegates to see evidence of research projects in the form of nest boxes, invertebrate traps and seed traps. The research is being conducted as part of the Beijing Forest Ecosystem Research Station program (a member of the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network – CERN). The results of research are published in local and international journals.

The IALE conference in Beijing highlighted the fact that many parts of the world are in a time of significant landscape change—physical, ecological and social. This presents huge challenges for landscape ecologists who wish to study interactions and patterns, and further problems for those scientists involved in applying science to practice.  However, it is an exciting time, as it is during these times of change that new and innovative ideas emerge and can be implemented.  Drawings on the walls of Beijing airport illustrated some of these innovative ideas and convinced Anne and Sarah that the next generation will get it right!