Across the EU, it is difficult to find published examples of local plans for forest-based bioeconomy development. Some cities in Scandinavian countries strongly base their economy on forests and on wood in particular. But their wood-based economy is already so mature that they do not need an action plan to further focus their interventions on the sector. In addition, these local economies are often developed as part of regional strategies. This is the case, for example, of the Municipality of Joensuu, the capital of North Karelia, in Finland, whose forest bioeconomy is strictly linked to the one of the Region. In fact, the most common scale used to put forward operational forest bioeconomy action plans is the regional level. It is no coincidence that the European Forest Institute’s ‘Bioregions Facility’, whose aim is to support the development of forest bioeconomy, focuses on a regional scale (and North Karelia is one of the three participating regions).
Therefore, a review of locally triggered forest-based bioeconomies has not produced many results, but I found a good example in the continental part of France, and in particular in the south of the Lorraine region, department of Vosges. Here, an inter-municipal local authority named ‘Pays d'Épinal Coeur des Vosges’ implements a series of actions to promote and value its territory’s wood economy. This web article investigates further this French case and looks at those elements of the French local action plan that may provide UFIL with ideas or models to be replicated in a 'Forest Bioeconomy Action Plan for Cuenca'. The exercise makes sense as the two local authorities are somehow comparable. ‘Pays d'Épinal Coeur des Vosges’ encompasses 168 municipalities for a total of some 140,000 inhabitants and a forest area of about 100,000 ha. The Municipality of Cuenca has slightly more than 55,000 inhabitants and about 77,000 hectares of forest area out of which almost 56,000 hectares are owned by the public sector (mainly by the municipality itself).
‘Pays d'Épinal Coeur des Vosges’ gathers together three inter-municipal entities. In very simple (actually, simplistic) terms, it aggregates these administrative entities and their municipalities with the aim to cooperate on certain aspects. Aggregation takes the form of so called ‘territorial and rural balance poles’, i.e., collaborative public establishments serving the needs of those territories that are located outside metropolitan areas. If the governance of this sub-regional public establishment is a bit complex, its attitude towards forest resources is very similar to that of the Municipality of Cuenca. The importance of wood in supporting the territory’s economy was acknowledged since the mid-1980s, but it is in late 2011 that these local authorities applied for national funding to develop a wood value chain and a territorial ecosystem around their forest resources. By highlighting the similarity to Cuenca, French local authorities of the ‘Pays d'Épinal Coeur des Vosges’ established a business incubator of wood/forest-related companies, created a collective brand ('Terres de Hêtre') and prepared a Territory Forest Charter towards the development of a forest ecosystem (Lenglet and Caurla, 2020). This Forest Charter is, in fact, very similar to an action plan and is looked at in more detail in the next sections.