Trees in need – forest damage continues to increase

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Trees in need - forest damage continues to increase


The condition of German forests has deteriorated further this year. “The situation in a large part of the forests in Germany is still catastrophic,” says Larissa Schulz-Trieglaff, spokeswoman for the Association of Forest Owners’ Associations (AGDW) in Berlin.


Dead spruce trees in the Harz Mountains.


© Swen Pförtner / dpa
Dead spruce trees in the Harz Mountains.


“The third year of drought in a row has led to the death of entire forest areas, especially in countries such as Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg.” With the exception of Bavaria south of the Danube, this summer was also drier than usual in most regions of Germany, as the data from the German Weather Service (DWD) show. The drought weakens the trees and increases the susceptibility to tree diseases. If trees die or are severely damaged, they count as so-called damaged wood.

There are no completely up-to-date nationwide data, but the situation in the large states is representative: The State Office for Forest and Wood North Rhine-Westphalia in Düsseldorf is forecasting 16.2 million cubic meters of damaged wood this year, 400,000 cubic meters more than in 2019. One cubic meter corresponds to one cubic meter.

And the “damaged area” that would have to be reforested will, at more than 32,000 hectares, probably be almost as large as in 2019, as the figures provided by the company show.

In total, the area of ​​dead or severely damaged forest areas is increasing almost everywhere. Take Lower Saxony as an example: “The damaged area of ​​around 10,000 hectares, which was created in 2018 and 2019, has increased by an estimated 3500 hectares in 2020,” says a spokesman for the Lower Saxony state forests in Braunschweig, although this is only roughly estimated Values ​​are.

The hardest hit are conifers in Germany – spruces and pines. Drought favors the spread of bark beetles in two ways, which particularly affect these two tree species.

On the one hand, the insects multiply faster in warm and dry weather. If it rains enough, the trees can repel the beetles: They form resin and stick the pests in their feeding passages.

But if it is too dry, there is no moisture for resin formation. The result is the explosive reproduction of the beetles, the infected trees die within a short time.

Dead trees, which cannot be cleared from the forest due to a lack of time and personnel, offer the insects good breeding conditions again – a vicious circle for foresters and forest workers.

In eastern Germany, the average amount of rain is anyway lower than in the west. Accordingly, the main tree species in Brandenburg is the frugal pine. But pines cannot tolerate permanent drought either. In 2019 there were “extensive signs of death” in Brandenburg, as stated in a report published in the summer by the State Competence Center Forst Eberswalde.

Foresters observe with concern that deciduous trees are also increasingly suffering. “The extent of complex damage to beech beeches that has become visible since late summer 2019 is unexpected,” says the Brandenburg paper. “Sessile oak and English oak are also increasingly affected by significant damage.”

The state forests of Rhineland-Palatinate are observing something similar far from Brandenburg: “As early as the spring of 2019, many deciduous trees in the Rhine valley and on the Donnersberg were no longer expelled as a result of the lack of water,” says a spokeswoman. The situation has not improved since then: “In the meantime, many deciduous trees in higher regions such as the Westerwald or the Soonwald have already shed their leaves prematurely in August and September. Whether they will survive will be seen in spring 2021. ”

State forest companies and private forest owners across the country are now puzzling over which trees they can still replant. “Nobody can predict how the climate will develop in the next few years and whether another drought in the coming year will destroy the seedlings that were planted this year,” says forest owner spokeswoman Schulz-Trieglaff.

But it is not just nature that suffers, the forest damage is a financial disaster for private and state forest owners alike. Since the spruce is still the most important economic tree, the bark beetle plague in recent years has led to a drop in wood prices throughout Central Europe. On Friday, the Bavarian State Forests – the largest German forest enterprise with 8,000 square kilometers of land – reported a net loss of 80 million euros. For 2021, the board expects even worse figures.

The working group of forest owners’ associations is therefore calling for financial aid to honor the forest’s climate protection performance. “Forest and wood absorb around 127 million tons of CO2 per year,” says Schulz-Trieglaff.

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