Abstract An indicator framework was designed as an operational science-based tool for the evaluation of the environmental aspects of sustainable forest management at stand level in Flanders (Belgium). The framework aims to assess the effects of forest management on forest composition, structure and functioning. It consists of seven principles and 19 criteria, to which 157 potential indicators, selected from literature, were assigned; 40 of these were considered as suitable by an expert panel, based on 10 operational selection criteria. All indicators were quantitative variables measurable in the field. After elaboration of a measurement protocol, the indicator framework was validated in 115 forest stands, distributed over the three main forest types of Flanders. The new indicator framework exhibited greater sensitivity to forest management practices and demonstrated better discriminating power than the method that is currently used by the Flemish forest administration to estimate the naturalness and environmental quality of a forest stand. Following a detailed cost calculation of each indicator and based on the sensitivity of each indicator to forest management practices, the indicator framework was further reduced to a final set of 29 indicators. This framework can also be applied in other regions, provided that local threshold values are defined to convert indicator values to indicator scores. The selection procedure and the possible contribution of this set to the forest management in Flanders are discussed.

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