‘Protection’ forestry in Switzerland

January 22, 2018

This skidder is being operated remotely by the operator on the left.

CMO was recently commissioned by the Valais canton in Switzerland to conduct an investigation into their harvesting costs and to make recommendations for productivity improvement. An interesting statistic about Valais Canton is that malaria was prevalent there as recently as the last century.

By Michal Brink

The early history of the European region that includes Switzerland is tied to that of Alpine culture. Switzerland was inhabited by Gauls and Raetians, and it came under Roman rule in the 1st century BC. Over nearly 2000 years the territories that today constitute Switzerland often changed hands between the Romans, the Germans and the French. Switzerland, as we know it today, was only established in 1848 following a brief period of civil wars in 1847.

Since this time, the history of Switzerland has been largely one of success and prosperity.

Industrialisation transformed the traditionally agricultural economy. Swiss neutrality during the World Wars together with the success of the banking industry, furthered the ascent of Switzerland to its status as one of the world's most stable economies.

The Swiss Confederation has been a federal state of relatively autonomous cantons, some of which have a history of confederacy that goes back more than 700 years, placing them among the world's oldest surviving republics. Today the Swiss federation consists of 26 cantons, with four official languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh.

Rigid truck with pup trailer.

Swiss forestry
Forests cover just under a third of the country (1.28 million hectares) with 72% of the forests being in public hands. Forest coverage has increased over the last one and a half centuries and continues to do so, especially in the Alps where abandoned agricultural lands are being re-established to natural forests. 2.5% of forests are reserves and thus protected. Legislation also allows every citizen free access to all forests, no matter the owner.

The federal forest law limits clearcutting to a maximum of 1 ha, but in the Swiss Alps, the clear cuts are a lot smaller to contribute to soil stabilisation on the excessively steep slopes. Harvesting is thus limited to partial cuts in these steep areas where the main management objective is that of protection forests – not protected forests.

A Menzi Muck, fitted with a Woody harvester head, working as a processor on the landing with a cable yarder.

Protection forest refers to the forest providing a protection function, whilst a protected forest refers to the forest itself being protected. Due to the steep slopes, there is a continuous risk of rock falls, mudslides and snow avalanches that pose a huge risk to humans, buildings and infrastructure. The state forest department thus subscribes to forest owners how and where harvesting should take place in order to mitigate the potential threats to life and assets.

Production forestry is thus a secondary objective in these forests, having a direct bearing on the harvesting costs that are as high as R2 500/m3. Because of the protection service provided through logging, the state subsidises the harvesting cost incurred by private forest owners.

Harvesting systems in the Swiss Alps are mostly limited to three systems:
• Helicopter logging (felled and processed by chainsaw).
• Cable yarding (felled by chainsaw and processed on roadside by processor).
• Cable skidder (Felled by harvester or chainsaw and processed by processor or chainsaw).

Transport systems are all rigid trucks with a trailer if roads allow for this.

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, Dec 2017

Traditional skylines are often used in Swiss harvesting operations.

Autumn colours in the temperate forests of the Alps.

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