Germany's forests on the verge of collapse

Friday 16 Aug 2019

Germany’s parched forests are nearing ecological collapse, foresters and researchers warn. More than 1 million established trees have died since 2018 as a result of drought, winter storms and bark beetle plagues.

Germany's forests are undoubtedly suffering as a result of climate change, with millions of seedlings planted in the hope of diversifying and restoring forests dying, warns Ulrich Dohle, chairman of the 10,000-member Bunds Deutscher Forstleute (BDF) forestry trade union.

"It's a catastrophe. German forests are close to collapsing," Dohle added in an interview with t-online, an online news portal of Germany's Ströer media group. Low rainfall last summer saw Germany's rivers reach extreme lows, with some waterways still struggling and forests prone to fire. "These are no longer single unusual weather events. That is climate change," said Dohle.

Helge Bruelheide, co-director of Germany's Center for Integrative Biodiversity, warned: "if the trend prevails and the annual precipitation sinks below 400 millimeters then there will be areas in Germany that will no longer be forestable." Lüdenscheid, a densely forested area in central Germany, was no exception, Bohle added. Its precipitation had slumped from one-meter (39 inches) in 2017 to only 483 millimeters last year.

Hot, dry summers and a lack of rainfall have placed Germany's forests at high risk of fire. Catchments in central Europe collected only 10% more rainfall in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018, a trend exacerbated by uneven wet-then-dry months, Germany's Institute of Hydrology (BFG) reported.

What Dohle of the forestry trade union termed "dramatic tree deaths" began with winter snow dumps in early 2018 which broke branches, weakening the trees' natural defenses and letting in fungal infections, "followed by drought and bark beetle infestation" that killed off European spruce trees.

One million older trees have since died — not only heat susceptible spruces, but even Germany's prized European Red Beech which had been widely planted over the past decade in the hope of creating climate stable forests, Dohle added.

Foresters are unable to remember such a dire situation. "We don't know where it will end," Michael Blaschke, spokesman for North Rhine-Westphalia's forestry commission, Wald und Holz NRW, told national public radio Deutschlandfunk.

Anticipating an increased wildfire risk, Germany's BBK Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance Agency announced on Friday that it had begun distributing 300 special fire trucks to Germany's 16 states. Configured for fighting forest fires on rough terrain, each vehicle costs around €223,000 ($251,000).


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