Wilderness stewardship

In a couple of previous postings on the Wilderness Academy Days, we have already covered four interesting conference sessions: Wilderness in the US and Europe, The impact of climate change on forests, Wilderness outreach and cooperation and Managing visitors in Wilderness. However, the list doesn’t stop here. Within the session focusing on Wilderness stewardship, we looked into the development and examples of a successful Wilderness Stewardship plan.

US experiences about the development a successful Wilderness stewardship program

Having had a career starting as a national park ranger to becoming Chief of Wilderness in the US National Parks Service, Garry Oye is a true Wilderness professional. He explaned, tat those charged with the stewardship of Wilderness are faced with various challenges and decisions. Examples of these include how to control invasive plant and animal species, how to coordinate between different federal and state land management agencies, how to decide whether to intervene if human activities are causing the Wilderness character to change and if yes, what are the minimum tools allowed to use for intervention also in relation to limiting potentially intrusive modern digital technologies, how to manage growing visitor rates, in what extent to accommodate commercial uses in Wilderness, how to best decide between natural fire versus fire suppression and how to maintain high air and water quality. Some of the key elements to successful Wilderness stewardship are clear, and consistent policy, a strong partnership or network and Wilderness stewardship expertise in forms of having a training programme for the protected area personnel and Wilderness rangers.

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

A Wilderness-focused management plan

Vasyl Pokynchereda presented their Wilderness Stewardship experiences from the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve in Ukraine, which was created in 1968. Due to the close cooperation with European Wilderness Society, in total 6 Wilderness areas were designated within the territory of the Bioshere Reserve between 2016-2018, including Uholka-Shyrokyi Luh, two areas of WILD Forest – Uholka-Shyrokyi Luh and Kuziy-Trybushany and three WILD Rivers: Mala Uholka, Velyka Uholka and Shyrokyi Luh.

Beside the achievements, they admitted that the management team has to tackle a lot of challenges, such as insufficient funding, strong tourism pressure on certain areas of the Bioshere Reserve, intensive urbanisation and fast infrastructure development in the bordering areas, as well as strong agricultural usage of the surrounding areas. However, one of the biggest conservation challenges they face is the effective management of the designated Wilderness territories. Therefore now a new 10-year management plan has been accepted, which includes a focus on Wilderness. This document emphasises that in the core zone, in accordance with the current Ukrainian legislation, all intervention is prohibited, except for scientific research and monitoring. There is also no tourism and recreation activity, no cattle corridors, and no collection of wild berries and mushrooms. Special attention will be paid to roads and paths that pass through the Wilderness core zone and restoration zone.

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

Wilderness in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea

Giuseppe Marcantonio presented the Wilderness journey of Majella National Park, the current Wilderness certification and the future of Majella Wilderness. He introduced the Italian General Law on Protected
Areas, which is the legal basis of how protected areas function in Italy, with a particular attention to the Zoning System. The zoning system includes 4 zones: Zone A (Integral Reserve), Zone B (Nature Reserve), Zone C (Protection Area) and Zone D (Socio-economic development area). According to this system and the Management Plan, interventions such as fire supression, grazing and water extraction are allowed in Zone A, therefore they don’t fully comply with the Wilderness criteria. This has lead to defining the Wilderness core zone in the National Park in a way that this area where the Wilderness criteria can be fulfilled is included within the A zone. The next step for the National Park is to build the Wilderness Stewardship in the next Management Plan.

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

A way forward for Wilderness Stewardship has to rely on a solid commitment by the entire Wilderness community, including managers, leaders, scientists, educators, nongovernmental organisations and others. Positive change is possible only if each player empraces Wilderness as their mission, recognises challenges and responds to them with a clever and clear vision.

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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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