Wilderness in Foreste Casentinesi NP, Italy

Wild ancient forests where the trees touch the sky

Our partners from Foreste Casentinesi NP, Italy confirmed interest to become a member of the European Wilderness Network. Today they proudly present their Wilderness area:

In central Italy, on the Apennines’ mountains between Tuscany and Romagna, Florence and the Adriatic coast, there is an amazing spot of biodiversity protected by the Foreste Casentinesi National Park (from 1993), with a huge amount of rare fauna and flora species: centuries-old white spruce and beech forests which contain also hermitages and sanctuaries, an incredible net of water sources, streams and falls, and the signs of an historical abandoned rural culture and society, counting just few human inhabitants today.

The Park has the highest national forestry coverage (more than 80%), and its ancient beech forests have just applied inside the UNESCO “tentative list” for becoming a World Heritage Site. Its bio- and zoo-cenosis could be considered almost complete, with a very well defined ecosystem balance from the most important predators (wolves, eagles) to their most common preys (ungulates and rodents), very close to Wilderness parameters, and very autonomous from human intervention in indemnifying damages. In the recent time black woodpecker, wildcat and pine-marten has been detected, whereas in the past time (first decades of XVIII century) also the brown bear was present.

In the middle hearth of the protected area it grows, in all its wild beauty, the first Italian Integral Nature Reserve of Sasso Fratino: 764 hectares of Wilderness closed to visitors since 1959, dominated by beech trees in its highest part, mingled with other broad-leaved trees as well as big holly trees and old yews below the altitude of 1200. The value of this reserve lies not only in the enormous wealth of species, but also in the wood structure itself: new-born, adolescent, old, sick and dead trees coexist in this area where everything is left as it is, and man for once has restricted himself to look and learn.

The whole National Park territory is affected by the return of the environment to a more natural state and extension, an important factor that leads to the restoring of biological independence and resistance, the increasing of available spaces for wild animals, and the creation of wild-life corridors for those species which needs to be preserved. The recent re-colonization of the wolves throughout Northern Apennines and – further, more recently – on the Alps, started exactly from these mountains and forests in the last 1970’s years.

Mattia Speranza – Foreste Casentinesi NP collaborator

with the contribution of:

Giorgio Boscagli – Foreste Casentinesi NP Director, Biologist, Wildlife Manager

Giuseppe Paris – President of “Friends of PNFC” Association

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6 thoughts on “Wilderness in Foreste Casentinesi NP, Italy

  1. Hi Max,
    thank you for explanation.
    I think that setting an area as Wilderness is a very big choice for a public administration (and so for population involved). Therefore clearly defined criteria and transparency of the method are very important. Now I’m downloading “EWS Wilderness Quality Standard” file. It’s very interesting!
    Cheers Dario

  2. Hi Dario,

    You are absolutely right that a lot of certificates are being used for greenwashing. That is why our wilderness quality certification results in a Wilderness Management Plan. This plan highlights the strength and weaknesses and is reviewed every 5 years. If an area fails to address the weaknesses we will not hesitate to demote the category to the next lower level. This is why we now have a bronze, silver, gold and platinum level. We are sure that this approach will improve the accountability and thus the quality of wilderness in Europe.
    Cheers Max

  3. Dear Mr. V. Vancura,
    Thank you very much for your kindly reply!
    I’m agree with you about an international recognition. Such recognition can to involve more people (and hopely stakeholders!) in the process of wilderness areas design, management and improvement. In addition, an international pressure to improve local actions is undoubtedly positive. The possible risk of international recognitions (but now I cannot talk about Foreste Casentinesi National park because I don’t know directly local context and involved people) is that they are used only as a façade for attracting tourism, without a following of concrete actions. Maybe this risk is lower when the recognition is based on standardized, clearly and temporarily defined criteria. I’m very glad that a temperate forest National park wants to take the path to wilderness preservation. I believe is relatively easier preserving tundra, taiga or high mountains that such temperate ecosystems in densely populated Western Europe.
    I would be very glad to cooperate with you! Just this morning I sent a mail to you and your team about this topic.
    Yours sincerely,
    Dario Botti

  4. Dear Mr. Dario,

    I am glad for your comments! We believe that at least some parts of Foreste Casentinesi National Park deserves an international wilderness recognition, other parts can benefit to improve gradually their wilderness management…

    I am also very glad to read that Italy has a high potential for wilderness and rewilding development!!!

    And last but not least we believe that the International recognition through the European Wilderness Network can help to improve protection of these last wilderness fragments in your country… Please let us know if you have an interest to cooperate…

  5. I guess Foreste Casentinesi National Park is one of the most important natural hotspot in Italy. Specially in Romagna territory of the park there are some of most important and beautiful nearly natural Italian forests. Thanks to efforts of the State Forestry Corp, this forest complex has survived until now.
    Although centuries of anthropic pressure, in Italy exist still places with high natural values. Other places are abandoned and their naturalness and wildness are improving. I think potentiality for wilderness and rewilding development in Italy is virtually high. Unfortunately, many “de facto” wilderness or self-rewilding areas are not recognized and protected and so they are currently at risks (for example for industrial renewable energy projects).
    Choices of “non-intervention management” are very uncommon in Italy, even in National parks, even in public lands. Incidentally, it should be pointed that Italian national parks, unlike Austrian or German for example, do not follow the IUCN “75 percent rule” (see Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories, IUCN 2008).
    Cause of this situation could be, perhaps, apart real difficult situations with many stakeholders, in the historical agricultural tradition of Italy. The so called “shifting baseline syndrome” could be explain this: for centuries each square meter (or nearly so) of our Country was been managed and we have forgotten that Nature can be survive even without the help of Man. Many people believe sincerely that land abandonment just causes degradation. Real world is very complex and each situation is different from any other, but in many cases where there are no danger for people, and traditional cultural landscapes are gone, maybe the best choice for abandoned lands could be protection with “non-intervention management” (and so zero or nearly zero costs: consider that Italy actually suffers of a deep economic crisis, other than cultural).
    In this cultural context, I believe that environmental education must to do a very big effort to shift toward more actual paradigms of nature conservation. From totally managed landscapes, where biodiversity seems an “in situ” collection (see also “Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding” by G. Monbiot 2013) to landscapes with more self-willed areas, freely developing nature and non-stopped successional stages or disturbances. In short, to a healthier landscape. I believe It’s necessary to educate to a new paradigm of nature and beauty, where forests (or wild beaches) full of dead woods aren’t considered “dirty”.
    In areas where management or exploitation (even if slight) is permitted, high natural or biodiversity values can be present (specially here in Europe), but natural processes (a key feature of wilderness, see “A Working Definition of European Wilderness and Wild Areas” 2013, and “A Vision for a Wilder Europe” 2013) are only partially allowed and protected. In such cases I think is very difficult to speak of wilderness. I am completely agree with Foreman (USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-1. 2000): wilderness areas are (or they should be) “self-willed lands”.
    Just an example: “Foreste Casentinesi” National park contains large State and Regional forests and its total area is 36.548 ha. Zone “A – Riserva Integrale (strict nature reserve)” is large 1.320ha (some 3,6% of the park), zone “B – Riserva Generale Orientata (guided general reserve, where according to the park plan traditional uses are permitted)” 10.408ha (some 28,5%). Remaining area of the park is classified in Zones “C – Area di Protezione (forestry, agricultural and sport protection areas)”of 25.833ha and “D – Area di Promozione Economica e Sociale (social and economic promotion, most urban areas) of 126ha.
    (See website http://www.regione.toscana.it/-/piano-del-parco-nazionale-delle-foreste-casentinesi-monte-falterona-campiglia?redirect=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.regione.toscana.it%2Fcittadini%2Fambiente%2Fparchi-e-aree-protette%3Fp_p_id%3D101_INSTANCE_eonjZadAbVH6%26p_p_lifecycle%3D0%26p_p_state%3Dnormal%26p_p_mode%3Dview%26p_p_col_id%3Dcolumn-3%26p_p_col_pos%3D2%26p_p_col_count%3D3)
    In current situation, with actual park plan and rules, it seems that exists a very little place for wilderness in the National park. Virtually, only zone “A”(1.320ha) could be considered “wilderness”, but 764ha are in “Sasso Fratino” Strict Nature State Reserve, that is in category IUCN Ia, so only 556ha (1.320 minus 764) are eligible for wilderness protection (IUCN category Ib) and public experience. Surely, many areas in the park are in very good seminatural status, but with current rules, these areas could be considered, perhaps, only a buffer zone for the small core wilderness area. At last, two questions arise to mind: actually do exist plans, projects or ideas for changing actual park plan and expanding non-intervention management area? Do exist plans or projects to reduce and then restore existing roads network or other anthropic facilities?

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Sign the Open Letter to the German Ministry

Join more than 70 forest experts demanding a radical change in the German forest management system.

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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