Vilm Resolution 2016 of the European Beech Forest Network

From 1 to 5 December 2016, 30 experts from 14 countries[1], who are dedicated to ecological research and the conservation of old and free-willed European Beech forest ecosystems gathered on the Isle of Vilm and conducted the second international workshop in this series[2]. Anni Henning, Vlado Vancura and Max Rossberg attended on behalf of the European Wilderness Society and presented the new European Beech Forest Quality Standard Working Draft. The participants represent governmental and non-governmental organisations, academia, protected areas and civil society. The special environment on the isle with its well-protected old-growth beech forests provided unique inspiration to the participants[3].

Please also read: 1st General Assembly of European Beech Forest Network

General findings and statements

  1. About 25 technical and scientific presentations provided most recent findings on ecology and conservation of beech forests as well as threats, risks and management issues. Various workshop sessions gave the opportunity for sharing knowledge, analyzing challenges and proposing concrete measures and steps to be taken.
  2. The group was informed about the recent successes made towards the extension of the serial UNESCO World Heritage Property “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany”. The European Beech Forest Network acknowledges the efforts made by ten countries currently striving for inscribing further component parts, and again points out the potential of this pan-European initiative, highlighting the value of primeval and old forests without any interventions.
  3. The European Beech Forest Network regrets that Poland reversed the decision of the former government to participate in the extension nomination and expresses concerns about the future conservation of Polish old-growth forests. It recommends that Poland reconsiders its decision and reengages with the process.
  4. Participants expressed their serious concerns for the ongoing beech forest destruction in the Romanian Carpathians, and the European Beech Forest Network endorses the Memorandum “Scientists Call for Protection of the Primary Forest Heritage of Romania”.
  5. The workshop was implemented in parallel to the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Cancún, Mexico. The European Beech Forest Network aligns its statements with the Cancún Declaration, from 3 December 2016, that explicitly renews the nations’ commitments to the conservation of forest ecosystems, amongst others being an essential element of cultural identity and worldview and providing valuable ecosystem services to humans.

Recommendations for ecologically functional beech forests and human well-being

  1. Beech forests are dynamic ecosystems and in times of rapid environmental change safeguarding their functionality is of vital importance to securing its adaptive capacity and resistance to disturbances. Scientific research reveals the importance of ecosystem continuity in space and time. Species, ecological processes and emergent ecosystemic properties are easily lost once the ecosystem is critically fragmented or degraded. Therefore, a network of appropriately connected free-willed ecosystems in a disturbance-low environment is a key condition for the survival and future evolution of beech forests. Correspondingly, the safeguarding of infrastructure-free and roadless areas is an urgent task, as much as is the active defragmentation of the landscape. The true ecological value of old beech forests can only be realized and safeguarded by considering the wider landscape.
  2. The free-willed beech forests provide vital regional ecosystem services essential to human wellbeing. They include climate and hydrological regulation as well as soil conservation. For both traditional and modern societies they offer an element of European identity. The values of the old beech forests go beyond commodity and direct benefit services in as much they have deep intrinsic value.

Recommendations for conservation policy and management

  1. Old beech forest ecosystems are appropriate reference sites and models for sustainable forestry practice.
  2. Climate change in combination with current land use practices is contributing to vulnerability of beech forests. Newly appearing pathogenic agents (such as Phytophthora species) pose serious risks to the survival of beech forests, which demands a better understanding how nature builds its own resilience, and this calls for greater space to allow beech forest ecosystems to operate dynamically and in a free-willed state.
  3. It is important to acknowledge the complexity and resulting uncertainty manifest in rapidly changing environments. Scientists and practitioners should avoid simplistic interpretations of current data and models that lead to risky decisions and interventions.
  4. Forest ecosystem management requires a fully integrated and participatory approach to planning and decision making. Raising public awareness and citizen engagement are integral parts of the process.
  5. The revision of existing forestry concepts and practices would be seen as an essential prerequisite to strategies for disaster and risk management. New strategies would draw on principles of eco-mimicry, including ecosystem-based adaptive management.
  6. Clearcuts and shelterwood systems are not considered to be compatible with ecological principles and conservation goals.
  7. A number of protected areas across Europe under their current management regime are not ecologically effective, particularly in cases concerning beech forests. There are noticeable differences in performance between countries, the current categories for protection lack consistency across the region.
  8. European-wide common standards designed to check the quality of beech forest conservation and management is called for. They would incorporate beech forest ecosystem functionality and policy proficiency checks, operating across spatial scales and from science to policy.

 

Outcomes and future goals

  1. The workshop participants agree to formalize the European Beech Forest Network as a registered association.
  2. The mission of the network is to promote and support the conservation of old-growth beech forests as well as the sustainable management of all beech forests; to raise public awareness of the importance of beech forest ecosystems; and to support the serial World Heritage Property dedicated to the old European beech forests. It also will develop and promote open standards for the quality of beech forest conservation and sustainable use.
  3. The European Beech Forest Network refutes recent statements[4] about the negative effects of strictly protected areas located in central Europe on the biodiversity of other countries and regions. All countries must demonstrate accountability for all environmental problems and show commitment towards forest conservation and sustainability. Strictly protected free-willed ecosystems are needed everywhere. Countries must follow the principles of shared responsibility and mutual support. The concept of sustainability has to be rooted in ecological principles that describe the limits to growth, and not in the economically driven forces. Increasing development needs and the mitigation of climate change must not be an excuse for more aggressively using natural resources and abandoning the precautionary principles of nature conservation and sustainability. It is the global overconsumption of timber that has to be halted, not the protection of the very fundament of life.

 

Signed by:

  1. Sergey Aleksandrov
Central Balkan National Park Directorate, Bulgaria
  1. Yuriy Berkela
Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, Ukraine
  1. Rumyana Ficheva
Central Balkan National Park Directorate, Bulgaria
  1. Dr. Martin Flade
Federal Environment Agency Brandenburg, Germany
  1. Dr. Nikolaos Grigoriadis
Forest Research Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece
  1. Victoria Gubko
Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, Ukraine
  1. Mihail Hanzu
Romanian National Institute for Research and Development in Silviculture „Marin Dracea” INCDS, Romania
  1. Anni Henning
European Wilderness Society, Austria
  1. Dr. Peter Hobson
Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, Writtle College, United Kingdom
  1. Patrick Huvenne
Agency for Nature and Forests, Belgium
  1. Prof. Dr. Pierre Ibisch
Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, Germany
  1. Kemajl Kadriu
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, Kosovo
  1. Nexhmije Kamberi
Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, Kosovo
  1. Prof. Dr. Hans-Dieter Knapp
Michael Succow Foundation, Germany
  1. Dr. Hanns Kirchmeir
E.C.O. Institute of Ecology, Austria
  1. Vasil Mochan
Zacharovanyy kray National Nature Park, Ukraine
  1. Dr. Martin Mikoláš
Department of  Forest Ecology, Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, Czech Republic
  1. Dr. Vasyl Pokynchereda
Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, Ukraine
  1. Max Rossberg
European Wilderness Society, Chairman, Austria
  1. Matthias Schickhofer
Agent Green/Euronatur, Austria
  1. Oscar Schwendtner
Bioma Forestal, Spain
  1. PhD Olena Slobodian
Gorgany Nature Reserve, Ukraine
  1. Dr. Tibor Standovár
Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary
  1. Lena Strixner
Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, Germany
  1. Dr. Rigas Tsiriakis
Ministry of Environment and Energy, Greece
  1. Frederik Vaes
Environment Brussels, Belgium
  1. Vlado Vancura
European Wilderness Societ, Slovakia
  1. Marcus Waldherr
Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, Centre for Econics & Ecosystem Management, Germany
  1. PD Dr. Susanne Winter
WWF, Germany
  1. Dr. Jesper Witzell
Söderåsen National Park, Sweden

[1] Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom

[2] The workshop was funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and organized by the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development.

[3] The participants of the workshop see its accomplishment as another milestone towards an effective European Beech Forest Network. They acknowledge the efforts of the German government sponsoring the networking process and especially thank the International Academy for Nature Conservation on the Isle of Vilm for providing a unique framework for inspiration and productive work.

[4] Schulze, E.D. et al. (2016): Externe ökologische Folgen von Flächenstilllegungen im Wald. AFZ/Der Wald 15/2016, 24-26.

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Sign the Open Letter to the German Ministry

Join more than 70 forest experts demanding a radical change in the German forest management system.

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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