Understanding Europe’s forest harvesting regimes

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Susanne Suvanto , Adriane Esquivel Muelbert, Mart-Jan Schelhaas, Julen Astigarraga, Rasmus Astrup, Emil Cienciala, Jonas Fridman, Helena M. Henttonen, Georges Kunstler, Gerald Kändler, Louis A. König, Paloma Ruiz-Benito, Cornelius Senf, Golo Stadelmann, Ajdin Starcevic, Andrzej Talarczyk, Miguel A. Zavala, Thomas A.M. Pugh


The functioning and structure of most European forests are actively shaped by intensive human use. Harvesting of wood is one of the key processes of forest management, making it a crucial element to include in any large-scale analysis of forest ecosystems. Yet, our understanding of how forests are harvested across Europe is limited, as the true harvest regimes – a realisation of decisions made by individual forest owners – are not well described by aggregated wood harvest statistics or formal management guidelines. To fill this gap, we analysed recent forest harvest activity, as observed in permanent plots of forest inventories in eleven European countries, totalling to 182,649 plots and covering all major forest types from boreal to Mediterranean forests. We aimed to (1) characterise harvest regimes through the frequency and intensity of harvest events spatially across Europe, and (2) build predictive models for the probability and intensity of harvest events at the plot-level, by linking individual harvests to the pre-harvest forest structure and composition, but also to climatic, topographic and socio-economic factors, as well as past natural disturbances. The results reveal notable variation in harvest regimes across Europe, with different harvest strategies emerging in regions with similar total harvest rates. These include, for example, low-frequency but high-intensity harvest regimes in northern Europe and high-frequency but low-intensity harvest regimes in eastern Central Europe. The harvest regimes were strongly driven by country-level variation, emphasising the role of national level factors in driving harvest patterns. Pre-harvest forest structure and composition was an important driver for the intensity of harvest events, whereas probability of harvest was more related to socio-economic factors and the occurrence of natural disturbances. The empirical quantification of the current forest harvesting regimes across Europe presented in our study provides much needed detail in our understanding of the contemporary forest management practices in Europe, crucial for understanding how human activities shape forests and providing a baseline against which to assess future changes in management.




Environmental Sciences, Forest Management, Forest Sciences, Life Sciences, Natural Resources Management and Policy, Nature and Society Relations


forest, Europe, forest management, land management


Published: 2023-08-31 09:10

Last Updated: 2023-08-31 16:10


CC-BY Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
The authors do not have the permission to share the forest inventory data. The aggregated results data (1 degree grid) will be shared at the time of the paper publication.