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Home   >  Citizens' Advice Bureau  >  The "Bourgeoisie" and forests  >  Orsieres' forests
A Short History

Today the forests may not be an important part of the local economy but for a long time they were a vital ressource for local inhabitants. The Commune of Orsières has a long tradition of forest husbandry and the importance of wood products in every day life earned the inhabitants of Orsières the nickname of  "boutsedon" (a patois word for a log).

Some statistics
Publicly owned forest 3261 ha
Privately owned forest 423 ha
Total forested area 3684 ha
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Equipped forest area 2799 ha
Area under extensive management 885 ha
Possible annual harvest 7500 m3
Yearly growth 4.5 m3/ha
Standing timber 382 m3/ha

The forest management plan of 1883 installed very conservative administration of the forests with most harvesting taking place near the "chablis" (gullies which acted as chutes for getting the timber down the mountain) and the cutting of old or sick trees. This has led to an increase in the amount of standing timber and consequently the harvest can be increased.

Growth in the harvest forecasts
1st management plan : 1883 possible annual harvest : 998 m3
2nd management plan : 1939 possible annual harvest : 2965 m3
3rd management plan : 1958 possible annual harvest : 4500 m3
4th management plan : 1983 possible annual harvest : 7500 m3
5th management plan : 2004 possible annual harvest : 9000 m3

This constant progression of the amount of harvestable timber show the ageing of the forests and the ever increasing proportion of old trees.

In fact there has been a complete turnaround of the problems faced. In times gone by the worry was to put a brake on excessive cutting in order for the forest to act as protection against avalanches. Today the reverse is true as there is no longer enough wood cut for the forest to regenerate and stay healthy - a necessary condition if it is to stop avalanches.

Tree variety distribution
Spruce 70 %
Larch 18 %
Pine 6 %
Fir 4 %
Arolla pine 1 %
Other 1 %
Wood use

Today 6 8% of the wood taken ou is prepared in sawmills and used in building. Since 1999 no wood has been sent to paper mills on account of the increasing demand for firewood which accounts for the remaining 32 %. 

The role of the forest today

From the beginning, the inhabitants of the area have grasped that life would not be possible without the forests that cover the sides of the valleys. The forests offer protection against avalanches, rock falls but above all against flooding and landslides. Forests absorb a large proportion of the precipitation. They stock and then filter this water which feeds our springs and grondwater tables (a mature tree can retain up to 200 litres of water a day).

Social role

Be it for humans, animals or plants, the social role of the forest is every more widely recognised.
Man needs an antidote to the stress of modern life and has developed a range of forest based activities : edible mushroom picking, hiking, fitness trails, picnics, snowshoe trails, mountain biking, hunting, horse riding, etc.

The forest is also home to numerous animal and plant species.

  • 100 species of bird out of a total of 146 live in the forest ;
  • 60 species of mammal out of a total of 68 live in the forest ;
  • 341 species of plant out of a total of 1964 need the forest to prosper.

The forests also play an important role in the landscape. The different varieties and the range of colours have shaped the countryside and are appreciated by all.


The forest, like all others, purifies the air as it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.

A productive forest

No longer a priority, perhaps, but the forest is the only renewable raw material in Switzerland.

Some history