EU Forest in danger

Artificially planted spruce forests in the Czech Republic and in Austrias Waldviertel fall prey to bark beetles. Biomass power plants threaten French forests. The destruction of old-growth forests on Natura 2000 sites continues in Estonia. Conifer plantations swamp Ireland. Also, Sami peoples battle logging on indigenous lands in northern Finland and Sweden. These are just a handful of examples from EU countries illustrating alarming situation with forest.

Public fears scope of forest damage

The forests in Europe are seriously under threat. This is a very obvious observation travelling in not only in Slovakia, Romania or Poland but also in France, Sweden or Germany. There is no need to be an expert, or even to be acquainted with the growing number of reports, publications, blogs or websites focusing on this subject. We are not talking about disappearing trees, but large areas of forest disappearing. And that is visible.

Whole valleys recently covered by forest are now naked. Slopes across Europe are criss-crossed by a network of forests roads. They are often visible from long distances. Additionally, rivers are more and more often flowing out of the riverbed, because logging debris and soil is choking the rivers.

Why are all these happening? Forestry has a long tradition in Europe, and a sophisticated management concept. One difference from other economic sectors, is that foresters are thinking in much longer time-frames. Usually in the life span of a tree, which means planning several decades in advance, and makes the forestry sector very unique. This long term planning is threatened by increased economic pressures and climate change.

Foresters and Non-profit organisations are alarmed

Foresters and Non-profit organisations have been warning society already for many decades. The traditional model of Forestry is being questioned by the short term economic needs of an increased demand for timber profits while at the same time the forest themselves are coming under pressure by extreme weather caused by climate change.

However business markets very often force foresters and their institutions to do activities which make the situation worse. This issue is important, and it reached EU level several years ago, although results are getting worse and worse.

Experts see many complex reasons behind this situation, such as changing natural conditions in Europe due to ongoing climate change, rising temperatures, dropping of ground water level, planting native trees outside of their natural area, planting exotic species, and also a growing demand for timber.

New Project financed by the BMNT

A new project spearheaded by the European Wilderness Society, financed by the Forest Department of the Austrian Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism; in cooperation with the leading foresters of Austria and its 9 provinces will take a multiperspective view looking at the threats to Biodiversity of forests and forest border zones while identifying some of the threats posed to the long term viability of forests, particularly in Austria. This project will be supported by the experts of the forest department led by Pierre Ibisch of the University of Sustainable Development Eberswalde.

EU new publication

The EU is taking strong action to protect forests globally, through development aid or innovative trade work. One example is the EU Forest Law Enforcement. However, to meet climate targets and improve life of countless communities, the EU is aware that forests protection requires a complex approach. We need to include all relevant stakeholders, and collect relevant information. This then leads to recommendations how to improve the situation in the forestry sector.

Members of civil society, researchers and activists from EU Member States wrote, with EU support, a publication. Fern compiled and edited this publication. The publication named EU Forest in danger provide stories from 11 European union countries with one common denominator of all 11 stories is that forest in Europe is suffering and that forest as we know it is going to changed.

Copyrighted Ondrej Kameniar
Făgăraș Old Growth Forest threatened © Ondrej Kameniar

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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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