Mountain watersheds and ecosystem services

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In the autumn of 2015, EFI’s Project Centre MOUNTFOR (Preserving and Enhancing the Multifunctionality of Mountain Forests) organised the 30th session of the European Forestry Commission Working Party on the Management of Mountain Watersheds. The proceedings from the session are now published as EFI Technical Report.

Due to steep slopes, extreme climate and severe weather events, mountain forests are fragile ecosystems. However, forested watersheds provide important goods and services and their management requires special planning and adequate measures to sustainably secure the productive, protective and cultural functions. Building climate resilience of head watersheds in mountain regions requires reviewing management strategies and approaches of mountain forests as a source of water for downstream users. Conflicting visions between upstream and downstream communities are increasing as a result of too simplified thinking about forest-water dynamic by the public and policy-makers. Hence, a better understanding of people and resource dynamics is needed to assess the multi-functionality of watershed services.

The European Forestry Commission Working Party on the Management of Mountain Watersheds (EFC WPMMW) has been active since 1952, promoting the conservation and rehabilitation of degraded lands through the rational use of water resources in mountain watersheds. The Working Party meets every two years to exchange information on the management of forests and watersheds, in the context of hazard, risk, and vulnerability in mountain regions, towards strengthening the resilience in mountain areas to climate change and disaster risks and preserving watershed’s provisioning functions in terms of water, wood and energy. The Secretariat is provided by the Forestry Department of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

The 30th session of the working party was attended by more than 50 delegates, lecturers and observers. An expert and stakeholder training dialogue was conducted in cooperation with experts of the Alpine Convention and the Ministry of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea of Italy. The invited stakeholders used the opportunity to discuss the following topics with the experts: forest, water, natural hazards; protective forests, and forests and green economy. Ecosystem services comprise supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural services and forests contribute to all these categories. The services provided by mountain forests range, among others, from erosion control, clean water to biodiversity and recreation. These multiple roles and the high sensitivity of head watersheds to environmental and socioeconomic changes encompass the need of balancing the different demands on forests through sustainable forest management. A shared understanding on how watershed management activities contribute to mitigating adverse impacts of these changes, as well as on the sustainable use of the ecosystem services provided by mountain forests is required. MOUNTFOR has fostered the COST Action Climate-Smart Forestry in Mountain Regions (CLIMO), funded by Horizon 2020 framework programme, which proposes a strategy to modernise the appeal and vision of mountain forests and build a “whole” green infrastructure at the continental scale.

Download the full report here.

Full reference: Roberto Tognetti, Giuseppe Scarascia Mugnozza and Thomas Hofer (editors). 2017. Mountain Watersheds and Ecosystem Services: Balancing multiple demands of forest management in head-watersheds.  EFI Technical Report 101. European Forest Institute.


More information: Roberto Tognetti (