Disappearing Wilderness in Komovi Mountains

The Komovi Mountains are part of Montenegro’s large mountainous labyrinth, including several less-known mountains massifs that surround the well-known Prokletije Mountains. It is a group of wild mountains, which includes several areas that are already in the scope of the European Wilderness Society for the European Wilderness Network.

We are aware that this corner of Europe has several legally designated protected areas. We also know that there are still areas with potential to qualify as European Wilderness, but are currently without any legal protection. Local people use these areas for livestock grazing and intensive extractive forestry. We learnt just recently that the speed at which extraction takes place is dangerously high. One day there is a wild valley without any access, the next day it is full of bulldozer roar and chainsaw squeal. The text and pictures provided by our partner Researcher Ondrej Kameniar, Wilderness Advocate provide such testimony.

Vlado Vancura
Deputy Chairman, European Wilderness Society

Komovi – the wildest Mountains in Balkan

Prokletije with adjacent mountains such as Komovi, Maglić and others is the wildest and most remote area on Balkan. It is a vast, hardly penetrable area on the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. The highest peak of this area is Maja Jezerce (2696 m.n.m.). This region has been subject of interest already for several years for professional researcher Ondrej Kameniar, Wilderness Advocate, from the Czech University of Life Sciences. Last autumn, he visited this area again, this time with friend, Marek Kochan, also a dedicated Wilderness Advocate.

I have been interested in this region for a long time and I was there already four times. I visited mostly the Albanian part. Last October I decided to go to the Montenegro part. The driving force behind this trip was the interest to find old-growth forest for our research. Last year, we already established research plots on two localities in the Albanian part of Prokletije. We found there very nice beech and beech-fir-spruce forest. One of these localities is today in UNESCO network.

Ondrej Kameniar
Wilderness Advocate from Czech University of Life Sciences

The first part of his exploration focused on Komovi Mountains. Mountains where the highest point is Kom Kućki, with an elevation of 2487 m. The mountain range is located just right next to Prokletije Mountains. Forest and man-made meadows are covering the lower part of Komovi Mountains. Additionally, widespread erosion is visible on many meadows.

We started our trip driving by car to the town Kolašin in Montenegro, then to Mateševo and finally to the remote mountain village Opasanica. From there everything depended on our muscle power. The first impression was not very positive: big logging trucks, new roads and clearcuts. We were well prepared for this trip, but this was a big surprise. We did not get this information, neither on the latest satellite images. But higher in the mountains, we found what we were looking for, large old forest with minimal signs of human presence.

Ondrej Kameniar
Wilderness Advocate from Czech University of Life Sciences

Wilderness potential in Komovi Mountains

The conclusions of this Wilderness exploration trip: Although people used large parts of this area for a long time with extensive forestry and grazing, there are still large areas of almost untouched forest. Remoteness and steep slopes were the main factors of forest survival. Also, „managed“ parts of mountains were interesting to see. Signs of the spontaneous land restoration were widely visible. Still, visible signs of traditional human impact were mostly decades old.

In more accessible areas, especially around old roads or ridges, fir was often completely missing. This is the result of so-called „shepherds management“. That means that shepherds used fir for timber for a long time. The outcome of this traditionally management approach is a forest with high conservation value. The forest has a pretty good natural structure and large amounts of dead wood. Also other important aspects of natural forest are not rare. The trees have big dimensions. Fir up to 130 cm diameter at chest height was not unique. Furthermore, trees have cavities and other special microhabitats that are important for forest biodiversity. There are also stands of natural alder (Alnus sp.) along the bigger streams. Simply said, in comparision with most of European forests, we can consider this forest in Komovi Mountains as high valued of even a WILDForest.

Race with time

Currently, fresh clearcuts are replacing this natural forest. Industrial logging is gradually replacing low-intensity shepherds management, which can quickly destroy valuable forest. Despite of this threat, there are still large contiguous areas of well preserved forest and complexes of natural ecosystems.

Now it it race with time. If the fast effective protection will take place, large forest areas can easily develop to the stage of “secondary old-growth forest“. There we can also find true old-growth sites. This however require further exploring of the polygon on western side of Knezelska rijeka (Knezelska River) and other localities. The threats are signs of ongoing large scale logging operation. If we do not stop this, another part of European Wilderness will quickly disappear forever. Most of all, there is one additional argument why this areas need to be protected: This place is too nice to be logged.

Ondrej Kameniar
Wilderness Advocate from Czech University of Life Sciences

Academic sector collect Wilderness arguments

The Department of Forest Eology on FLD ČZU (Faculty of forestry and wood sciences, University of Life Sciences in Praha) with head Prof. Ing. Miroslav Svoboda, Ph.D. is working on research of forests with no or minimal human impact. We like to call them old-growth forests and virgin forests.

The research is focused on many European countries, but especially in the Carpathians and Balkan peninsula. Using dendrochronology and other methods, the Department of Forest Ecology brings a lot of valuable information about long-term functioning of forest ecosystems and about mechanism of natural disturbances.

In addition, the research also focuses on forest structure, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, forest resilience and relationships between all these processes. Main issue is to contribute to sustainable land use, whose part is also protection of functioning natural ecosystems.

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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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