Wilderness Verification Mission in Nationalpark Hohe Tauern

Taken out of the verification diary!

Day 1

At the beginning this week 2 Verifiers of the European Wilderness Society arrived at Mittersill, Austria for the Verification Mission in the Hohe Tauern National Park, one of 3 interested parks for Wilderness certification in Europe in 2015.

Opening meeting was attended by the National Park Director mr. Wolfgang Urban, the Natural Resource Manager mr  Ferdinand Lainer and mrs. Kristina Bauch responsible for science and research questions in the National Park. The team discussed topics like the final zoning of the Wilderness area, wildlife and game management as well as present and future research activities.

In the coming 10 days field trips to the 3 valleys of the proposed Wilderness area, Krimmler Achental, Ober- and Untersulzbachtal, are planned to get impressions of the area around the Grossvenediger and to go in details through the European Wilderness Quality Standards. The intention of this verification mission is to clarify and confirm the suitability of the National Park Hohe Tauern Wilderness to fit to this standard…

Day 2

Today we spent full day in Untersulzbach Valley. After leaving the car left and right steep slopes already belong to the Wilderness zone but narrow bottom of valley is still buffer zone due to traditional grazing. Our guide Feri will lead us to the place where the trail will end at the border of Wilderness area.

The area we are assessing today includes also small fragments of old spruce and cembra pine forest hanging on steeps rocky walls. High among the cliffs we see also small flocks of chamois and even higher rugged surface of glaciers. After 2 hours of hiking we are leaving last calm cow grazing along the trail and entering to the area with no sign of extractive use. The valley is full of thundering milky water of Untersulzbach Creek running nearby. We are at the door of best Wilderness area in Hohe Tauern NP.

This is end for today! To the end of this valley we will go on coming Monday with a group of researchers. During that day we want to assess how is Wilderness subject incorporated to the overall park research work.

Walking down we interview Feri on subject of park partnership concept with local farmers, impact of hunting and intensity of forestry operation outside of park. All these information are helping us to better understand local situation and put together complicated puzzle of Wilderness conservation in this park.

Tomorrow we are heading for few days trip to the heart of this high alpine Wilderness. Weather forecast is promising less rain than today and so we plan focus our assessment work on very remote recently glaciated areas. We will work in elevation 2 500 –  3 000 meters above sea level…

Day 3 and 4

Thursday and Friday we worked in  Wilderness core zone located at the end of Kimmler Achental and Obersulzbach Valley. Due to remotes and elevation we spent there 2 days. Thursday in heavy rain Wolfgang Urban, Ferdinand Lainer and Ferdinand Rieder from Hohe Tauren NP, the two auditors from European Wilderness Society hiked two hours to the Warnsdorfer Hutte.

Cold, clear morning with 5 cm of fresh snow on the surrounded mountains is a  great early morning welcome to the demanding day. Claiming up 1600 meters and walking for endless hours through the raged landscape shaped by glaciers… One of many tasks planned for today is verify if area named Jaidbachkar should be excluded from the proposed Wilderness zone due to extractive use…

Retreating glaciers are the most dynamic process in this wilderenss area

Hot, sharp sun in elevation close to 3 000 meter above sea make all field work very demanding… Trail already disappear among gravel and big borders so our guide Ferdinand Rieder is irreplaceable.  Top of the Schlieferspitze (3 290m) is offering a panoramatic view. It is an excellent place to assess any disturbance or extractive use in the large part of Wilderness core zone. From this point we  oversee about 60 %  of proposed Wilderness area. Several bunch of chamois, family of ptarmigan and sign of ibex indicate presence of local wildlife in this seemingly inhospitable landscape…

On the way down we have to cross Krimmler Törl (pass between Kimmler Achental and Ubersulzbach Valley). It is time to use rope for security – we are crossing edge of Obersulzbach  Glacier… Wet, heavy snow, crevices and endless planes of glacier is our way for next hour. Right in opposite slope we see Kursinger Hütte. Our destination in the coming days. But now we are heading down – down. After crossing glacier we are again among boulders and assess how trails are marked, secured and maintenanced…

Day 5, 6, 7 and 8

After assessing the Obersulzbach-valley and Habach-Valley as well as the Krimmler Achen-valley last week, the two verifiers of the European Wilderness Society focused their work to Untersulzbach-valley. The mining activities in the past were subject they work in the morning. After visit of old mining place, turned to attractive visitor place, they hiked high up to the Untersulzbach-glacier, which lays in the same-named valley and in the special protected area of the National Park.

Accompanied by the National Park’s director Wolfgang Urban, the property structures and the characteristics of this valley were discussed during this hike. The focus was put on the special protected area which mostly belongs to a German nature protection NGO, who received these grounds in exchange to land in the Stubach- and Felbervalley already in the 1930/40.

To assess light and noise pollution in the valley, the verifiers and the National Park director stayed on site for this night to get an appropriated impression of these issues.

Remarkable was the difference of the biodiversity of the meadows in and outside the special protected area whereas most parts of the special protected area have never been grazed or the grazing was given up already years ago.

Day 9 and 10

After hiking through almost all of the proposed Hohe Tauern Wilderness, we spent the last days in the office and verified our findings in several meetings with the staff.

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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.


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