Camping in Wilderness with the European Outdoor Ethics Programme

Camping is a typical way to experience Wilderness in the United States. In Europe, on the other hand, camping in Wilderness is highly restricted and even forbidden in many protected areas. But being able to experience Wilderness is essential for Wilderness appreciation. So how do Europeans get their Wilderness experience? Of course, camping is not the only way to experience Wilderness. However, the question still needs to be asked: How do we raise awareness and appreciation of Wilderness, amongst those with limited opportunities to experience true Wilderness?

Please also read: The Challenges of Nature Tourism in Wilderness

How do you get your Wilderness experience?

When talking about Wilderness in Europe, people often associate it with some kind of restrictions, for example No-Go zones. This is in contrast to the Wilderness understanding in the United States, where Wilderness is seen as a common good – “secured for the American people of present and future generations”. This is particular evident when it comes to the uses of Wilderness. Europeans can mainly just experience Wilderness during day-trips, however camping is legal in most American Wilderness areas (but permits might be necessary). Both approaches have benefits as well as downsides. The question is: Do the benefits outweigh the possible consequences?

You can only appreciate what you experienced

Wilderness camping is a great way to connect with nature and experience things you would not be able to see, hear or feel on a day-trip. It enables you to discover your own wildness. Most importantly, it inspires people to protect these areas creates new Wilderness advocates. However, the impacts camping can leave on Wilderness cannot be neglected. Numerous Wilderness areas in the United States require overnight-permits for camping and strictly limit the number of these permits, in order to reduce negative impacts. But still, pollution from inappropriately disposed human waste, illegal and unattended campfires causing wildfires, scarred trees and destroyed vegetation are unfortunately not rare issues. Nevertheless, the U.S. Wilderness Act preserves Wilderness for;

“the use and enjoyment of the American people in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as Wilderness”.

This statement in the Wilderness Act determines that the use of Wilderness must be in a manner that will leave the Wilderness for future generations. In response, the Leave No Trace movement was developed. Their principles allow experiencing Wilderness without leaving an impact.

European Outdoor Ethics

Camping in Wilderness needs a framework and strict principles but most importantly it needs education. Education needs to focus on Wilderness and minimal impact camping techniques, and on the national legislative situation. The European Wilderness Society developed the European Outdoor Ethic to offer such a European-wide framework for Wilderness camping. It is based on the legal situation in European countries, and incorporates best advice and support for experiencing Wilderness sustainably. Wilderness camping in Europe will always have some restrictions, dependent on the fragility of the Wilderness landscape and the history of its use. For example some Wilderness areas were previously used as military training grounds. In these cases, land zonation plays a big part. Additionally European Wilderness areas are smaller than most American Wilderness areas, and the European Outdoor Ethics reflects this.

However, despite the advice and guidance of European Outdoor Ethics, the legal situation of Wilderness or wild camping is the deciding factor.

Wilderness in Europe

It is still a common belief that Wilderness is not present in Europe. But Europeans often overlook what is right on their doorstep. The European Wilderness Network protects more than 300 000 ha of Wilderness across the European continent. Northern and Eastern Europe still hosts vast areas of Wilderness, however Central Europe is home to Wilderness as well. Numerous areas in Austria and Germany prove that.

The European Outdoor Ethic provides advice on how to experience Wilderness. It takes into account human safety and national legislations, whilst protecting the Wilderness. This will enable more people to experience and appreciate Wilderness, and promote Wilderness stewardship.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.

Motto: SYSTEMIC FOREST ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INSTEAD OF WOOD FACTORY

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