600 millimetres of rain in 48 hours followed by winds of 200 km/hour blasted northern Italian forests in October 2018. The Vaia storm destroyed 42,500 hectares of forest and tore down 8.6 million cubic metres of timber, equal to around five to seven years of forest harvesting in that part of the country.
Trees were affected in different ways: spruces were uprooted, because of their superficial root system; silver firs were broken, due to their tap-root; whereas almost all the larches are still standing, as, being deciduous, there was no sail effect. The huge amount of rain, however, also compromised species like beech and chestnut trees.
In the past years, many storms have crossed Europe, such as Vivian (1990), tracking through France up to north-west Italy, Lothar, (1999) affecting France and Germany, with 240 million m3 of felled timber, and Kyrill (2007), hitting Sweden and UK, with 65 million m3 trees felled, and many dead. In all the cases the strong wind was from the North. So, while storms are not news in Europe, the Vaia storm was the first destroying wind from the South; perhaps some evidence of climate change?
What is certain is that almost all the affected forests were sustainably managed according to international PEFC standards, so lack of management is not the main cause of this situation in the forests.
And it was also PEFC Italy which acted at the end of 2018 to help find quick solutions and give a concrete sign of solidarity to forest owners. The project “Filiera Solidale” (Solidarity Supply Chain) invited wood sector companies and consumers to buy timber coming from damaged areas at fair prices, reducing imports from abroad.
The economic damage concerns the entire sector: higher costs for cutting and harvesting the timber (estimated increase of up to 30%), loss of processing and value of wood, planning to be reviewed, costs of restoring infrastructures and forests. These factors lead to an expected reduction in the price of timber that affects the entire supply chain and slows down operations of setting up and putting the lumber set up on the market.
By October 2019, with half of the felled wood harvested in many of the affected areas and more than 80 companies now part of the Solidarity Supply Chain, there are numerous examples of how the trees felled by Vaia have followed the most virtuous path and become objects of furniture and construction.
There is quite some demand for gadgets and objects made from this wood and in some cases, according to experiences of the bathing establishments of the Venice Lagoon, supplies have been requested entirely marked “Filiera Solidale”. Furthermore, some cultural or sporting initiatives have accepted the appeal by PEFC Italy to give added value to this wood. It has been used to build the stage for theatrical works, such as the 300 logs sent from Friuli Venezia Giulia region to the Greek theatre in Syracuse, Sicily, for the tragedy “Le troiane” by Euripides and also used for podiums and other sports facilities for the Paragliding World Championships of Tolmezo, held in north-eastern Italy.