Svydovets massif needs our support

The European Wilderness Society recently visited the Svydovets massif in the Ukrainian Carpathians. The area is currently highly disputed because of a proposed mega-ski resort, offering recreation for up to 28 000 visitors per day. Around 60 hotels, 120 restaurants and 33 ski lifts are planned for 230 km of slopes. The group “Free Svydovets” points out the disastrous consequences of this mega-project for the surrounding nature and communities . The group actively campaigns against the project. The European Wilderness Society is a partner of the “Free Svydovets” group, and strongly supports the protection of the unique Svydovets massif. Recently, EU wide campaigns started for the protection of Svydovets.

“The massif is the territory where the main tributaries of the Tisza originate. There are lakes,  marshlands and streams which play a very important role for the hydrogeology of the Carpathians. These humid zones are fed by water from thawing snow and heavy rainfall. They act as a water reserve throughout the year. This strongly reduces the likelihood of catastrophic flooding.”

Oksana Stahkevitch-Volosyantchouk, a transcarpathian ecologist

The nature of the Svydovets massif

The Svydovets massif is a home to wild mixed spruce and beech forests rich in flora and fauna. Three natural lakes are located within the massif. The massif is known for its high precipitation, about 1 400 mm per year. The source of the Tisza river, one of the region’s most important rivers and tributary of the Danube, is located here as well. As a consequence, the massif is of great importance for the hydrological regime of the Carpathians.

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The realisation of such a big project, in combination with the already ongoing changes deriving from climate overheating, would lead to far-reaching changes to these rare ecosystems. Soil erosion, floodings, landslides, the lowering of the water table as well as water pollution and drought would affect the local inhabitants. A group of Ukrainian scientists prepared a scientific ecological assessment of the Svydovets massif.

“these valleys and humid zones are very fragile ecosystems. An excessive human intervention in this system would have disastrous consequences. All of these ecosystems are essential for the endemic species of the Carpathians.”

Oksana Stahkevitch-Volosyantchouk

The proposed ski resort would include the construction of numerous other touristic infrastructure. This includes parking spots, shopping malls and even a landing strip for airplanes. This also means building a network of roads to facilitate these constructions. The project would not only destroy many hectares of forest but would lead to far-reaching changes of the hydrological regime of the area. The current touristic situation of the massif already impacts the fragile ecosystems. Uncoordinated camp sites on the lakesides, illegal cutting of fire wood and water pollution are just a few impacts.

What about our overheating climate?

With warming temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns, building a new ski resort in such a low altitude (1 700m) is neither a sustainable nor profitable effort. Even Austrian ski resorts, mostly located in altitudes between 1 500m and 3 000m, increasingly struggle. The irregular and decreasing snowfalls make artificial snow production necessary for most ski resorts to operate. However, the high amounts of water necessary to guarantee operational resorts all winter often lead to empty water reservoirs already in January. As a result local water shortages happen more and more. Soil compaction causing erosion and a change of vegetation are other consequences of the preparation of slopes.

Free Svydovets

Ecological organisations “Free Svydovets” consists of locals from the village of Lopukhovo, from Transcarpathia, Lviv and Kiev, lawyers and the European Cooperative ‘Longo maï’ and others. The group demands:

  • annul the building permits granted by the two local districts,
  • call on the council of ministers to refuse authorisation for a change in land use,
  • protect the summits and the natural lakes in the massif by extending the neighbouring Natural Reserve,
  • impose a reduction of the maximum yield permitted per hectare for wood cuts,
  • encourage stronger controls of forest exploitation by civic organisations

European Wilderness Society presence

In a recent trip with members of “Free Svydovets”, European Wilderness Society visited again the area of the proposed ski resort. First hand impressions of the nature conditions, local traditions and uses, as well as forestry developments of the area were gathered during this visit. The Svydovets massif is not only an essential watersource for Ukraine and neighbouring countries. It is also an important migration corridor for bears and other wildlife. The massif is located in close vicinity to other protected areas, such as the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, partner of the European Wilderness Network, and Gorgany Nature Reserve. Preserving this ecosystem is thus particularly important to guarantee healthy wildlife populations. Many of the massif’s forests are dominated by natural dynamic processes and are still without any significant extraction – key indicators of Wilderness. These natural and wild forests are home to many red listed and endemic flora and fauna species. The support of international people and organisations is particularly important for the activist group to highlight the international value of the area. More than 20 European institutions, including the European Wilderness Society, have already opposed the construction of the proposed ski area. “Free Svydovets” are currently collecting statements to support their message. If you want to support them, please visit their homepage and sign their petition.

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Further pictures of the trip to the Svydovets massif can be found here.

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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.

Motto: SYSTEMIC FOREST ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INSTEAD OF WOOD FACTORY

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