Linking past land use legacies and future land use trajectories in mountain regions

A parallel session „Linking past land use legacies & future land use trajectories in mountain regions” started immediately after the Conference Opening ceremony on the first day. Its main goal was to discuss how far previous human actions in the landscape are reflected by present-day land use and land cover change dynamics, and how they altogether will echo in future.

Eight presentations, and five posters were accepted. These eight presentations were successfully squeezed into the available two-hours as all presenters kept timing extremely well. However, we had to sacrifice discussion which, at least in some cases, could extend well above three minutes. Yes, we know: an eternal problem how not to reject to many proposals given specific time and space constraints.

First three presentations dealt solely with the Alps, at three various spatial levels: pan-alpine, based on a number of case studies spread across the entire chain (Tappeiner et al.); national, presenting forest cover changes in Switzerland (Loran et al.), and local, looking at consequences of grazing pressures and climate change to land cover dynamics of a single pasture (Snell et al.). The fourth presentation compared forest cover changes in the Swiss Alps and Polish Carpathians, thus shifting the regional focus of the session from the Alps to other mountain regions (Ostapowicz et al.). The contemporary impacts of the past land cover in the entire Carpathian range were the focus of the next presentation (Munteanu et al.); later on, K. Potthof discussed a sequence of land cover changes after farmland abandonment in a mountain site in Norway. A. Dörre’s study introduced how traditional pastoral systems in Central Asia (Fergana basin) have been affected by colonial invaders, communist economy and recently set-up political boundaries. Finally M. Severino proved how powerful (yet simple) tools exploiting rich archives of terrestrial photography may help to interpret and understand change in mountain landscapes.

The session confirmed that land use legacies are a relevant topic across different mountain systems and can be observed at different spatial scales. It has also been highlighted that land use legacies work on very long time-scales (e.g. contribution of R. Snell). A core finding of the session was that in many cases legacies are not only reflected in land use change but also, and may be foremost, in land use persistency. Examples are the large portions of continuous forest cover in Central European mountain systems (presentations by C. Loran and K. Ostapowicz) and the low rate of abandonment in old agricultural land (C. Munteanu). An important link to the Ecosystem Service concept was made by U. Tappeiner by stating that changes in ES provision is an underlying driver of land use / land cover changes.

It was evident from most of the presentation (and nicely summarised in a concluding remarks by C. Munteanu) that as past human actions shape (influence) the present-day landscape and various phenomena (e.g., forest recovery in Norway – K. Potthof), current land use managment produces legacies for the future. Slow, gradual land use and land cover changes seem to be deeply rooted in the past, even though it was shown in several presented studies that very strong, exogenous drivers (like wars, depopulation, boundary change – see e.g. the study of A. Dörre on pastoral systems in Central Asia) could for some time alter the land change trajectories.

Methods were not in the focus; mostly a range of GIS-based operations were used to set-up a spatial database with a historic land use and land cover information (like map interpretation, satellite / aerial image processing), followed by disentangling various change drivers with standard modelling approaches. A notable exception was the final presentation, in which M. Sanseverino pointed, in a most vivid way, to the power of our visual perception of landscape and understanding of its changes based on the interpretation of a sequence of historical photographs. Not all mountain regions may boast as splendid an archive of photographs as the Rockies in Canada (see Mountain Legacy Project: http://mountainlegacy.ca/), yet even much more scarce resources could shed light on a number of interesting LUCC processes, increasing their understanding among a range of users, and inducing involvement in citizen science / participatory projects.

Urs Gimmi & Jacek Kozak

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