Except for humans, all natural enemies of the deer and chamois have disappeared in the Swiss forests. The animals have been able to multiply almost uncontrolled. However, since the wolf is back in Switzerland, a fascinating development has been observed:

“Where the wolf is, the forest is healthier.” – Graubünden Forest Deparment

In their newly produced ‘Forest development plan 2018+’ the Swiss canton Graubünden welcomes the wolf. The forestry department clearly states that the wolf has a positive effect on their forests, and actively supports its return.

Original Statement

1.6 Grossraubtiere

Der Wolf, der Luchs und zeitweise auch der B.r sind in den letzten Jahren wieder nach Graubünden eingewandert. Seit 2012 hat sich im Calandagebiet ein Wolfsrudel etabliert, welches regelm.ssig Nachwuchs zur Welt bringt. Wie sich diese Entwicklung auf die Schalenwildbest.nde und die damit verbundenen Wildsch.den auswirkt, wird untersucht. Aus forstlicher Sicht erhofft man sich, dass die Konzentrationen von G.mse und Hirsch generell abnehmen und der Lebensraum dynamischer genutzt wird.

Beim Luchs zeigen verschiedene Untersuchungen aus der Schweiz und dem restlichen Alpenraum, dass sein Vorkommen einen regulierenden Effekt auf die Wildpopulation hat. Dies wiederum hat in diesen Gebieten positive Auswirkungen auf die Waldverjüngung.

Grossraubtiere sind aus forstlicher Sicht willkommen. Deren Ausbreitung auf noch nicht besetzte Gebiete im Kanton wird begrüsst. Sie k.nnen massgeblich zu einer Entlastung der Wildschadensituation beitragen. Dies erfolgt nicht nur durch eine rein zahlenm.ssige Absch.pfung der Best.nde, sondern auch mit einem wesentlichen Einfluss auf die Wildverteilung, welcher sich günstig auf den Wald auswirken kann. Dabei muss der ordentliche Jagddruck erhalten bleiben, um den erwarteten positiven Aspekt der Grossraubtiere zu erreichen. Bei einer Reduktion des Jagddrucks w.re dieser Effekt gehemmt.

Restore the protective forests

About 60% of the forests in Graubünden are so-called protective forests. Meaning that the trees provide a natural protection against rockfalls, landslides and avalanches, by supporting and securing the upper soil layer on mountain slopes. To function properly, the forest needs young, strong and healthy trees. Yet, 21% of the protective forests are coping with serious rejuvenation problems.

“We are dealing with conditions that can not be tolerated in the long term. The protective function of the forests could be permanently disrupted.” Reto Hefti, regional forestry official

The rejuvenation problem means simply that there are not enough new young trees growing in the forests. The cause for that is the overgrazing and debarking of young trees by ungulates, especially roe deer, red deer and chamois. The more of these animals live in the forests, the more they damage young trees permanently and destroyed them. The number of ungulates in Switzerland is incredibly high, because all natural enemies have disappeared and deer numbers grew almost uncontrolled. Now that the wolf has returned, the forest show an interesting development: wherever the wolf is, the forest becomes healthier.

How do wolves lead to healthy forests?

The wolf is an apex predator, a crucial component for a healthy ecosystem. Even in low numbers, their effect on the overpopulation of ungulates is noticeable. Less herbivores lower the pressure on the vegetation. But not only the direct impact by wildlife depredation is important. The indirect behavioural change of deer and chamois, due to the wolf’s presence, leads to increased movement through and avoidance of certain areas in the forest. This enables the vegetation to regenerate better, preventing soil erosion and destabilisation. The most famous Swiss wolf pack is the Calanda pack in Graubünden. It lives close to the city Chur, (Pop:33.000)  between highways, train tracks and numerous villages. In this area, people already see the results.

“The number of young fir aged 2-5 years strongly increased.” – Mattiu Cathomen, regional forestry official

Wolves are forest and ecosystem engineers

The Swiss forests clearly benefit from the returning wolf. And that is not the only impact on the local ecosystems. We published an educational poster recently on how ‘Wolves restore nature’s balance in Europe‘. It will take a few more years before we can see more examples of healthier forests if the wolf returns elsewhere. But one thing is clear: the wolf is good for the state of the forests.

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