Wilderness and wildlife at the Wilderness Academy Days

Wilderness and wildlife go hand in hand. By definition, Wilderness provides a home for wildlife, and is large enough to support stable populations of species. Therefore to understand Wilderness, you must understand wildlife. To this effect, at the Wilderness Academy Days we held a session ‘Wilderness and Wildlife’, for participants to exchange their knowledge and experiences on the topic.

Please also read: Wildlife in the postmodern era

The portrayal of European Bison by local communities

Joanna Tusznio, from the Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University in Poland, spoke of her research on the social effects of free-ranging European bison. Through understanding local perceptions of bison, it is possible to protect their population and develop coexistence strategies with local communities. Białowieża Forest, Poland, is known as the homeland of European bison, hosting approximately 600 individuals. The second territory is Bieszczady Mountains, which is the home of 480 free-ranging bisons. In addition, in Western Pomerania, approx. 210 individuals live. Unfortunately the irresponsible way of bison tourism causes a lot of trouble in the touristic areas and there would be a great need for sustainable bison tourism developmet. The first examples of farmer stewardship models for bison started emerging. Coexistence models currently vary greatly between the three territories and depend on the local stakeholder’s needs. Possible approaches for the future are ranging from developing a sustainable bison tourism through separating bison and society or transforming conflict and damage into stewardship programs, to potentially completely withdrawing human intervention.

European Wilderness Academy Days 2019 © Copyright
European Wilderness Academy Days 2019 © Copyright

Monitoring large carnivores along the Carpathian grey infrastructure

Gabriella Nagy from CEEweb presented the Interreg project ConnectGREEN, which focuses on increasing the capacity of ecological corridor identification and management to overcome the conflict between infrastructure development and wildlife conservation. Within the project, Natura 2000 site managers, conservationists, spatial planners and other key stakeholders are approached to strengthen the capacity for identifying and managing ecological corridors for viable populations of large carnivores. During it’s lifetime, the project tackles the identification of key ecological corridors and critical barriers in the Carpathians connected to the distribution of target species and core areas. This will be joined by an analysis and set of recommendations on the current planning systems to minimize habitat fragmentation and a strategy to restore and manage these mountaneous ecological corridors.

European Wilderness Academy Days 2019 © Copyright
European Wilderness Academy Days 2019 © Copyright

Transboundary wildcat conservation

In Austria nowadays, the wildcat counts as a rare guest. David Freudl and Zdenek Macat shared their experiences with Wilderness management in Thayatal National Park, Austria and Podyji National Park, Czech Republic with a focus on wildcat conservation. The two national parks work in close cooperation and develop cross-border projects, targetting wildlife corridors, among others. One focus is on Wildcat conservation and monitoring. David and Zdenek explained, that the differentiation of wildcats and domestic cats based on morphology is not easy. New studies show which features are really useful for distinguishing domestic and wild cats. There are some visual hints that help the observer to distinguish between them, however the conclusions of these studies show that intestinal length, brain volume and skull index are the only features that reliably separate domestic and wild cats due to the lack of overlap of the measurements and three coat features (tail rings, neck and shoulder stripes). The speakers also introduced various monitoring methods, including lurestick and photo traps. Reports of wildcat sightings have been increasing in number over the last few years. The accumulation of current evidence in Thayatal National Park reinforce the hope for a true comeback of wildcats in Austria.

European Wilderness Academy Days 2019 © Copyright
European Wilderness Academy Days 2019 © Copyright

You can read summaries about each session of the Wilderness Academy Days here: Wilderness in the US and Europe, The impact of climate change on forests, Wilderness outreach and cooperation, Wilderness Stewardship, and Managing visitors in Wilderness.

To also read the abstracts, please see the Book of Abstracts below:

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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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