Confusing messages from Bulgaria

The European Commission announced on 22. July 2016 that it is taking Bulgaria to the Court of Justice of the EU over its failure to protect unique habitats and important bird species in the Rila Mountains.

Please also read: A second chance for Pirin Wilderness

Within Central and Southeastern Europe several World Heritage sites are currently threatened by mining, unsustainable water use, transport and tourism infrastructures and active deforestation. Among the sites are the caves of Aggtelek in Hungary, the old-growth forests of Pirin National Park in Bulgaria, the Danube Delta, and the primeval beech forests of the Carpathian Mountains.

On the other hand, we receive additional information coming from our Wilderness advocate in Bulgaria Stefan Avramov. Here is his text describing the situation with forests in protected areas:

Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture and Food declared 10% of the state forests in Natura 2000 as protective old-growth forests which should be fully protected. Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture and Food declared on 02.11.2016 with order #PD49-421 10% of the state forests in Natura 2000 as old-growth forests. The total surface of the protected forests is 109 145,60 ha.

This great achievement is a result of long and consistent field researches and activities of the Bulgarian environmental organizations to identify and map old-growth forests and to conserve their biodiversity values in cooperation with the forests institutions and Ministry.

The order was issued in the implementation of the Guidance for the regimes for sustainable management of the forests in Natura 2000 which was developed by the Forest University in Sofia, Bulgarian Forest Institute and Executive forest Agency. It was approved by the Biodiversity Council at the Ministry of Environment in 2011. The Guidance required at least 10% of the forests in Natura 2000 to be declared as old-growth forests which will be not managed.

A few years later with the amendments of Ordinance for cuttings in the forests in 2015 it was decided to stop any cuttings in the protective forests declared as old-growth forests except if they are 50% damaged. The same time there was a long process of identifying the proposed areas. There were a lot of discussions shall this to be implemented to all forests or only to the state forests and how to choose the most representative list of forest polygons.

The projects of WWF and BirdLife Bulgaria proposed initial lists of old-growth forests in Bulgaria. Finally the Executive Forest Agency in collaboration with the state forest enterprises developed the final proposal which was signed by the Minister of Agriculture and Foods on 02.11.2016. This is the biggest step in the nature protection in Bulgaria after the declaration of the three Bulgarian National Parks. The total surface of the protected forests is more than 1091 km2 which are scattered in the whole country from the sea level to the high mountain altitudes and which include all types of Natura 2000 forest habitats.

Just for comparison, even if we calculate the saved forests from the declaration of both the National Parks Rila and Central Balkan we will see that they are 977 km2. We hope that in the process of the preparation of the regional forest management plans and management plans for the Natura 2000 sites additional patches of old-growth forests will be added to this list.

What is really happening in the forests of Eastern Europe?

The real question now is : “What is really happening in the field.”  The Deforestation report from Romania written by Prof. Dr. Hannes Knapp has shown that a closer look often reveals another side of the story.

We are asking all our friends and supporters in Eastern Europe to report to us what the situation in the forests and the protected area is really like.  Please let us know about your findings and/or observations. We would appreciate if you could send us photos including the GPS coordinates of the location photographed in addition to a short description. Upon request we will treat the information confidential and all names anonymously. Thank you!

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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.


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