Dealing with tourism in Wilderness

Last summer, European Wilderness Society auditors carried out a successful Quick-Audit in Thayatal National Park for the European Wilderness Network. The National Park shares its Austrian borders with Podyjí National Park in the Czech Republic. Because of the relative small size of the Thayatal National Park and their Wilderness, tourism pressure is also high. It is thus very important to manage visitors in a proper way, because it can also benefit nature. In this posting, Christoph Milek, from Thayatal’s visitor – and natural resource management, shares how they deal with tourism in Wilderness.

Please also read: Quick-Audit of Thayatal WILDForest & Thaya WILDRiver

Introducing Christoph Milek

Christoph’s main tasks within the administration of National Park Thayatal are visitor and natural resources management. This includes for example the creation of the yearly visitor program. This program describes excursions and events of different sizes and topics, which Christoph plans and organises. Together with Podyjí National Park, he is also responsible for the Ranger service in the field. Part of the Ranger service is to assess the compliance of hiking paths with National Park regulations. In addition, it supervises any flights over the park. Besides this, Christoph also works on public relations and management of fishery, meadows, dry grassland and neophytes.

Important element of management

As a Protected Area of the IUCN status II, Thayatal should not only protect natural resources and processes, while supporting research in this field. The National Park also needs to be a place of recreation, education and other visitor opportunities. Hereby it can contribute to the local economy, through tourism and cooperation with small businesses. Therefore, Thayatal offers a wide range of excursions and events to educate visitors on the idea, understanding and acknowledgement of the value of natural resources. At the same time, the National Park aims to limit the access to the fragile areas, by keeping visitors on marked tracks. The National Park cooperates with local businesses for the excursions, events and shop products. In addition, Thayatal National Park expands the cooperation also with other protected areas, not only cross-border partner NP Podyjí. This includes other Austrian and European National Parks and other protected areas, such as Natura 2000, Biosphere Parks, and Wilderness areas.

Dealing with tourism Thayatal WILDForest and WILDRiver Thaya

In these areas there will be no individual tourism at all, as there are no marked trails leading there. The Rangers control this on their regular service in the field. Only some special excursions will bring small groups of visitors there, as well as our rangers in the course of their training. The dam in Vranov and dam near Znojmo impact the river Thaya significantly further upstream. This changed the river characteristics of water temperature, sediment transport, fish stock, and natural floods. The part within the National Park, people cannot access WILDRiver Thaya. Therefore, tourism is not a big problem here. But to enable tourists to experience similar wild areas, information signs are constructed along existing trails. They inform the visitors about the Wilderness and WILDRiver concepts and promote the idea behind it.

Opportunities to experience the WILDForest and WILDRiver

As mentioned, there are only some occasional excursions for visitors into these Wilderness areas. Thayatal National Park always emphasises the importance of wild areas, unspoilt places and the protection of natural resources and processes. Those visitors should realise that it is a privilege to be in these places. The National Park management does not allow water activities like canoeing, swimming, fishing and other, maybe attractive, tourist activities along the river in the National Park. However, tourists are able to experience other parts of the Thaya river at several trails and viewpoints in the Park.

A cross-border Wilderness in the heart of Europe

The audited areas in Thayatal National Park proved to be unique places of Wilderness. The characteristic Thayatal WILDForest and Thaya WILDRiver form together with Podyjí Wilderness and Dyje WILDRiver a special place. A stunning variety of wildlife and plants is home to this relative small part in the heart of Europe. Together, they form a great example of international cooperation to protect Europe’s wildest places for the next generations.

This post was guest written by Christoph Milek, Thayatal National Park, Austria.

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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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