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Fifty years of forestry research

With the creation of forestry research stations in the 1960s, INRA combined agronomy and forestry research, an original solution that allowed an integrated approach to environmental research.

Understanding forest response, imagining the future. © INRA, URFM
By Pascale Mollier, translated by Emma Morton Saliou
Updated on 04/11/2016
Published on 01/23/2016

Creation of forestry research stations

The story began in 1964, when forestry research stations opened at INRA centres in Nancy, Avignon and Bordeaux. That historical year made INRA unique: the Institute combined agricultural and forestry research, fields which were generally studied by separate organisations in most countries. Bringing these fields together made it possible to broaden research on underlying issues such as agroecology, ecological intensification, and more generally, to take an integrated approach to environmental research.

A broader vision

In 2004, a specific scientific division was created within the Institite: the Forest, Grassland and Freshwater Ecology Division. Areas of study such as “forestry” or “fish” were extended to include broader, more integrated concepts such as “ecosystems” and “biodiversity”. Advances in research were helped by molecular genetics, genomics, modelling, and the large-scale development of long-term observation and experimentation networks.

Results transferred to the field

Findings helped scientists understand a contradictory phenomenon: forestry production had steadily increased in France since the 1950s but multifactorial die-off had also been observed, linked to both acidification and severe droughts. The use of  lime to fight acidification is one case of a successful transfer of research to practical applications in the field (1). Four other examples which had a significant societal impact are: breeding of maritime pines, the fight against the pine processionary caterpillar, the Fire Paradox programme to fight forest fires, and the CAPSIS modelling platform (2).

(1) See the ASIRPA impact study: Evaluating the impact of public agricultural research. Project carried out since 2011 by scientists at two INRA research units: Science in Society (SENS) and the Grenoble Applied Economics Laboratory (GAEL), and by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Society (IFRIS).
(2) CAPSIS: Computer-Aided Projection of Strategies In Silviculture. Read the article.