Let’s worry about ungulates and not wolves

While wolves are accused and hunted down for killing livestock, European hunters and farmers are missing the biggest issue facing them already: uncontrollable numbers of ungulates. Wild boar, red deer and moose (where present) are causing millions of euros damage in the agricultural and forestry sector. Even exotic bird from South-America are now targets in Germany. The news does not often report on that, in fact many governments do not publish these numbers.

Please also read: The need for antlers, tusks, and horns

False perspectives

When you search for the statistics on wildlife damage, it seems nearly impossible to find reliable numbers. Countries like Spain, Portugal, Romania, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy and even Germany do not publish on the damages from ungulates. This way it becomes very difficult for the general public to put the wildlife damage into perspective, especially in relation to the wolf.

Germany just revealed that wolves caused approximately € 500.000 damage over the past 17 years. A study in 2016 showed that Spain, having 4-5 times more wolves than Germany, is coping annually with € 700.000 damage. Yet both countries provide no public data on damages caused by ungulates. Unpublished data shows that browsing of red and roe deer cause more than €90,- per hectare damage to forestry in Germany. Consider that Germany has roughly 11.4 million hectares of forest. The damage by deer alone could thus exceed € 100 million per year.

Ungulates’ damage in Europe

Other countries do publish some numbers, and they are shocking. Austria copes with an estimated forest damage from ungulates of €218 million every year. About 70% is caused by browsing of roe deer, red deer and chamois. In principle, the Austrian hunters have to pay the compensation, yet hunters pay only 20-30% to the forest owners.

Red deer, roe deer and wild boar damage 24% of the young forests and 13.200 hectares in Poland. In response, Poland used chemical and mechanical repellents and fencing to protect young forests, costing more than €15 million back in 2003.

England estimates the damage to agriculture at €6.56 million. In Sweden, the moose causes loss on pine wood quality of at least €50 million per year. The Czech Republic estimates forest damage at €1.5 million (unpublished data) every year. Hungary paid compensations of €4.5 million to cover agricultural damages in 2005, while it paid another €585.000 to compensate for forest damage by deer. And Croatia deals with €685.000 damage each year, where wild boar causes most damage to corn fields and pastures.

Problematic wild boar and traffic accidents

Estimates show that the damage of wild boars alone to European agriculture exceeds €80 million every year. In France, the wild boar is accountable for 87% of the paid compensations, while red deer causes 10% of the crop damage. French hunters paid more than €26.5 million compensation in 2004/2005. Add another €100 million costs due to ungulate-vehicle collisions in France, and you see that the wolf is not France’ biggest problem. However, in 2016 government officials killed the 100th wolf in France, since its return. And last month, the French authorities killed three more wolf cubs.

In Slovenia, the calculated costs of wild boar damage is €15 per km2, thus € 300.000 each year. The wild boar is accountable for about 60% of the damage claims in Slovenia, mainly on cereal crops and pastures. Adding up the ungulates’ damage in traffic accidents, numbers are exceeding € 10 million a year. Even in Germany, the statistics show €447 million damage due to the collisions with ungulates.

Forests still benefit from ungulates

All these numbers might put the ungulates in a very bad daylight. But ungulates are also very beneficial for forests! While debarking certain species, they can support increasing plant biodiversity. Even browsing on unwanted plant species (from a human perspective) can increase the economic value of a forest stand. Furthermore, ungulates act as seed dispersers, improving germination conditions. The problem is the excessive large numbers. In recent years, hunters often released ungulates to increase population sizes for hunting. The ungulates became very shy in a human dominated landscape, thus hunters were not able to kill enough deer to keep the numbers under control. Now that the wolf is returning, it would be much better to let the wolf restore nature’s balance in Europe again. More zoning and fencing with the goal to keep wild animals out of their forests and to try to control species using hunting techniques, will only worsen the situation. Carnivores controlled the herbivores in our forest for a long time very effectively, until we humans intervened.

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Sign the Petition for resilient forests


90 signatures

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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