The forest’s protective function is crucial for Valais given the canton’s terrain and the density of its land use. "Forests perform this critical role of protector both for our towns and villages and for our roads and railways," underlined Jacques Melly, Member of the Cantonal Council and Head of the Department of Mobility, Spatial Development and Environment. "So it’s not just for locals that they’re extremely important."
No less than 87 per cent of the forests in Valais play a key part in protecting against natural hazards. However, a protection forest can only meet the requirements made of it in terms of providing this protection if it is appropriate for its location, developed in stages and endowed with vitality and a sound structure.
Danger of falling rocks and avalanches
Rockfall poses the biggest threat to the "Salins", "Le Sé" and "La Garde" regions, and engineering-based alternatives to protection forests, such as rockfall netting, are considerably more expensive. The regular maintenance that the forest needs in order to perform its protective function costs around 15 to 30 times less than such technical protection measures.
"In many protection forests, the regeneration process takes a very long time due to the short growing period, especially in the mountains," points out Olivier Guex, Director of the Forestry, River Management and Landscape Office of the canton of Valais. New growth only emerges very sparsely and it takes several decades before a tree can exert its protective effect. The natural evolution of the forest, with its phases of upheaval caused by destruction and ageing, also needs to be taken into consideration when planning a protective forest. Planting new trees in this way supplements the natural regeneration process, really helping to create a protection forest that is developed in stages and rich in biodiversity. Maintaining an ongoing regeneration process is the only way to preserve the forest’s protective function regardless of any potential threats (e.g. caused by storms).
Jacques Melly planted the first sapling in the soil of the forest near Veysonnaz, helped by the cross-country skiing champion Dario Cologna, who is the Helvetia ambassador for protection forests. Also actively involved in planting the first few trees were Jean-René Fournier, Member of the Council of States and of the Helvetia Board of Directors; Reto Keller, Head of Individual Life Switzerland and Member of the Helvetia Executive Management; Jean-Maurice Favre, General Agent at Helvetia Valais Central; Olivier Guex; Christian Pernstich, Director of Forestry for Central Valais; and ski racer Daniel Yule.
And the work done by the foresters to maintain their forests also benefits Helvetia: "Their efforts are helping to protect people all over Switzerland from the damage caused by natural hazards and their consequences," Reto Keller explains. The donation of 10,000 trees to the canton of Valais is the latest example of Helvetia’s long-standing commitment to protection forests, which stretches back seven years. Its twelve previous projects in Switzerland have seen the company already donate 120,000 trees, thus making a tangible contribution to a sustainable damage prevention strategy geared towards the long term.
Inspiring the next generation to embrace protection forests
Protection forests stand to benefit future generations in particular, especially since it takes decades for them to take effect. The Helvetia Patria Jeunesse foundation helps classes of schoolchildren to go on trips to the protection forest. Visiting a forest of this kind shows the pupils not only how it works but also, and most crucially, how important it is. Applications for financial support can be downloaded from www.kiknet-helvetia.org/schulreisetipp-schutzwaldexkursion (in German).
Your own tree for ten francs
Anyone wanting to help the protection forest can purchase a tree pass from Helvetia for CHF 10. For every pass sold, an additional tree will be planted in a specially marked plot in one of the regions being supported. Information on the scheme and on Helvetia’s commitment to protection forests can be found online at www.helvetia.com/protection-forest.
Photo 1: Planting the first new trees in the protection forest in Veysonnaz: Christian Pernstich (forest engineer VS), Pius Kläger (forest engineer UR), Jean-René Fournier (Member of the Council of States and of the Helvetia Board of Directors), Dario Cologna (cross-country skier and Helvetia ambassador for protection forests), Lizan Kuster (Helvetia ambassador for protection forests), Jacques Melly (Member of the Valais Cantonal Council and Head of the Department for Mobility, Spatial Development and Environment), Jean-Maurice Favre (General Agent at Helvetia Valais Central) and Reto Keller (Head of Individual Life Switzerland and Member of the Helvetia Executive Management).
Photo 2: Handing over the cheque from Helvetia to the canton of Valais to fund 10,000 trees: Jean-René Fournier (Member of the Council of States and of the Helvetia Board of Directors), Jacques Melly (Member of the Valais Cantonal Council and Head of the Department for Mobility, Spatial Development and Environment), Jean-Maurice Favre (General Agent at Helvetia Valais Central) and Reto Keller (Head of Individual Life Switzerland and Member of the Helvetia Executive Management).
Photo 3: Lizan Kuster and Dario Cologna with forester and forestry workers.