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On Sunday November 24th in Syracuse a thousand holm oak trees would be buried to create the ‘Bosco delle Troiane’. Due to bad weather the initiative, which envisages the planting of 6,000 trees for the creation of urban and peri-urban forests, will be postponed. 24 in the residential area: a new tree for every child born or adopted in towns with more than 15,000 residents – as specified in law 10 of 2013.

The re-adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, directed by Stefano Boeri, was being performed until this past June in Syracuse. This tragedy, dating from 415 BC, begins where a Greek drama usually ends, with a catastrophe: Troy has been destroyed, the men who defended it massacred, the women who have survived are prisoners and are waiting to being distributed among the victors. The plot is static: nothing can happen, because everything has already happened. Even the gods are far away and indifferent to the fate of the losers, concerned only with reasserting their power over the victors. “Foolish is the man who destroys cities,” says Poseidon at the start of the play, “because by killing others, it is he himself that he ultimately condemns to ruin over time.” Ruin awaits the Achaean ships, which set sale loaded with the spoils of war. Boeri’s set was full of trees killed by a storm, broken trunks covering the ground.

Between October 26th and 30th of this year, in Friuli alone, 900 millimeters of rain fell in just 72 hours – an amount which on average falls in Milan over the course of entire year. The sirocco blew at 213 km/hour – then the anemometers were blown away. 42,800 hectares of woodland were leveled to the ground, 8.5 million cubic meters of timber demolished – a total that is normally achieved in seven years. Mostly European Silver Fir and Norway spruce. 494 towns in four different regions (Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige, and Friuli Venezia Giulia) were affected. The meteorological institute of the Free University of Berlin is responsible for naming the high and low pressure areas that cross Europe. The name can be purchased and personalized – €199 plus VAT tax for low pressure, €299 plus VAT tax for high pressure. Mr. Jakobs, the manager of a multinational group, gave his sister Vaia, for her birthday, the low pressure storm that occupied our latitudes at the end of October 2018.

Gherardo Chirici, professor in the Agricultural, Food, and Forest Sciences and Technologies department at the University of Florence, coordinated, on behalf of the Ministry, a work group charged with estimating the damage of storm Vaia. He believes that most of the damage was the result of a lack of variation in woodland surfaces, which were intentionally created so during the 1930s and 1950s. The Norway spruce were planted mostly after WWII and have superficial roots that are not yet deeply anchored in the ground. Beech trees and larches remained standing. 

According to Alessandro Wolynski, head of the Planning, Forestry, and Forest Economy office for the autonomous province of Trento, the cost of the total artificial reforestation of the area post-Vaia is around €100 million – a choice that is not feasible, and not only because of financial limitations. Nature, if allowed to renew itself spontaneously, recovers space by borrowing from neighboring woods. Human intervention, in response to hydrogeological and safety needs, will be aimed at those areas in which it is necessary to reinstate protection from fallen masses, avalanches, or landslides in ground that is no longer held together compactly by trees. Larch, beech trees, Norway spruce, and European Silver Fir will reforest this area.

Over the past thirty years, in Europe, there have been four events more destructive than Vaia: storm Vivian in 1990, which knocked down 70 million cubic meters of wood; Lothar & Martin in 1999 which demolished 240 cubic meters; Gudrun in 2005 with 75 million; and Kyrill in 2007 with 66 million. It is difficult to calculate with precision exactly how climate change may have interacted with the type of forest in contributing to Vaia’s destruction. Summer 2018 was hotter than average, consequently warming the water of the Mediterranean. The sirocco, which blew in from the Adriatic at approximately 100 km/hour, met the colder and more violent mistral, which lingered above the Apennines before rushing down onto the Adriatic and pushing the sirocco upwards, towards the eastern Alps. The sirocco was then forced through a narrower funnel, which doubled its speed due to the Venturi effect. In Vaia, the biggest problem was the wind.

“When wind surpasses a certain speed,” explains Renzo Motta from the Agricultural, Forest, and Food Department of the University of Turin, “the trees’ structural characteristics (height, species, diameter, how slender they are, structure of the population) are not able to provide a resistance force that is strong enough to oppose that of the air. There is a threshold under which careful forest management can limit damage: 94-100 km/hour for a single tree, 150 km/hour for more resistant woodland. The destruction of the forests by Vaia’s wind had a domino effect. Trees knocked down by wind, as in Vaia’s case, can facilitate the proliferation of bark beetles (a parasite typical to European spruce), which attacks and reproduces in diseased or already dead wood and, during infestations, also spreads to healthy trees – or contributes to the spread of wild fires.

It will take at least three years to recover all of the trees that were knocked down – most of which still lay where they fell. Lumberjack companies are mostly medium-small, equipped for handling a smaller amount of wood. In the province of Trento alone there are three million cubic meters of fallen wood, against an average of 500,000 cubic meters per year. These companies do not have sufficient tools or personnel to handle these quantities in such a short time. They have called in the support of European cutters, but their licenses are not valid in Italy: they first had to obtain new ones that are valid in the regions. On the one hand there is the pressing need to move quickly before the wood becomes unusable; on the other the drawback of market-driven logic in which such a sudden and large supply has slashed prices. Wood is sold in two ways: in piedi or a strada. In piedi means that the owner of the wooded lot entrusts the removal of the wood to a company that is interested in purchasing wood – pre-Vaia the average price was €60/cubic meter. A strada means that the owner of the lot himself, with his own equipment, handles the operations, selling the wood via stacked yards or by the side of the road – pre-Vaia the average price was €90-95/cubic meter. After Vaia in piedi sells at €25/cubic meter and a strada at €65.

Fabio Ognibene has always lived in the Fiemme Valley. He is the sole administrator of Ciresa Srl, which produces resonance chambers for musical instruments (it was in these woods that Stradivari came to select the materials for his violins). He spoke to the forestry authorities and got the owners of the valley’s woodlands involved in the collection and salvaging of the ‘wood of music’. He launched a crowdfunding campaign with repayment of the money loaned. Between November 2018 and June 2019 he collected over 2000 square meters of resonance trunks, already put to use. 50% of the investment was paid for through crowdfunding. This wood will be transformed, in the next five years, into 15,000 soundboards for pianos, 20,000 bodies for guitars, violins, and cellos, and 2,000 concert harps.  

The PEFC (Program for the Recognition of National Guidelines for Forestry Certification) launched the Filiera Solidale PEFC project, a system that tracks and certifies the wood sourced from the trees knocked down during Vaia along a solidarity-based production chain all the way to the final consumer and to the citizens. It monitors quality and checks for the presence of bark beetles. Italy’s wood industry (which include the furniture, paper, and heating sectors, with a revenue of €4 billion in 2018) is the largest in Europe. Despite the fact that the percentage of Italian land covered in forests is greater than that of France and Germany (36.4%, 11 million hectares, according to the National Report on the state of the forests and of the forestry sector), it imports 80% of its wood, primarily from Austria, France, Switzerland, and Germany. With this program, the PEFC is asking public administration offices, associations, and organizations to use wood knocked down by storm Vaia in the construction and maintenance of public and private works, also including bonuses in the tender specifications for those who use Vaia wood, certified by the Filiera Solidale PEFC. The association has also asked that this wood be used in the preparations for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milano-Cortina.

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