Logging in spruce forest due to bark beetle infestation. Picture: F.R.
Forest scientist Ulrich Matthes on the state of Germany’s forests, the forest summit and what needed to be done
Angela Merkel once said: "If the euro fails, Europe fails. We can say: If the forest dies, then climate protection dies? Ulrich Matthes: The forest had to die globally for this to be said. This is an extreme scenario, which I do not ame. In terms of Germany, many forests are currently suffering damage that could not have been expected years ago. But I was not going to say that the forest in Germany will die off across the board. "Forest dieback 2.0", "Catastrophe of the century": Is the situation really that bad or is this just some kind of media hype? Ulrich Matthes: The situation is dire and worrying in any case, because several tree species are now affected by drought damage, pests and diseases. It is no longer a regional problem, as it was when the "Forest dieback 1.0" was, where the damage was very much regionally concentrated and where one with the sulfur dioxide -"acid rain" – had a major cause. Now it is a global phanomenon, in Germany the forests are affected flatly. In this respect, one can already speak of a new kind of forest dieback. What do you think of the "Moritzburg Declaration", in which the CDU/CSU ministers responsible for forestry in the federal states have a "Master plan for Germany’s forests" demand? Ulrich Matthes: In my opinion, the dramatic description of the situation in the declaration paints a realistic picture of the current state of the forest in Germany. The demands, such as the immediate reconstruction of climate-adapted forests, are essential points of action on the way to a future forest, which can continue to fulfill the manifold social benefits. As called for in the master plan, financial support from the federal states is also indispensable. Forest summits, forest inventories, expert discussions: do we need all the things that politicians are now announcing, or do we already have all the information we need to improve the situation?? Ulrich Matthes: Naturally, one has many different bases for decision-making. One has every ten years a federal forest inventory. All federal states think about the future suitability of tree species and ie recommendations that are adapted to the respective location. Nevertheless, the damage has now occurred on a massive scale, so that the forest owners need help now – also for the reconstruction of the forests. And that’s where you have to further develop these decision-making systems that you have. It also takes money and capacity to manage this huge program. It is not only a question of financial resources, but also of manpower, organization and logistics. The entire timber market has been severely affected in terms of price development. In this respect, it is important for politicians to think about this, to get together and start such initiatives. Do we still have enough time to wait for all this to happen?? Ulrich Matthes: You have to act very quickly because you have these damaged areas and you have to reforest them – just because of the legal requirements. In parallel, science must continue to research which tree species are suitable for which climate scenario. We don’t have much time, just a few years. But we also don’t have the best basis for decision-making yet. The main question is: do we need alternative tree species that we don’t have yet?? Such had to be tested over a long period of time. But we do not have this time. That’s why we’re already starting to experiment with cultivation and are trying to introduce them selectively and mix them with native species.
"No one-sided economic orientation, which was often in the foreground in the past"
When must the "Master plan", which the policy plans to be implemented at the latest? Ulrich Matthes: It is difficult to say. You have to reforest these damaged areas within half a year. And we already know, for example, that we generally have to get away from the accumulating spruce. This must now be put into practice. As far as new tree species are concerned, we may still have a few years to go. One must observe exactly, how dramatically it becomes for the forest in the coming years. A few years ago, we were still saying that tree species such as Douglas fir and pine were viable for the future. Plotzlich show the also damage, so that one must here from today to tomorrow possibly umsteuern. Do you think that the politicians will really do what is necessary?? Climate protection as a whole has often been dragged out in recent years. Ulrich Matthes: I think that if this continues in this dramatic way with the forest damage, bark kafer and heat waves, then politics will also become active. When we have a cooler or wetter year, I was worried that this would be forgotten again very quickly. This makes it all the more important for politicians to set up demand programs and commit themselves beyond the legislative period. What exactly had to come out of the forest summit planned for September by Federal Minister of Agriculture Klockner?? Ulrich Matthes: First of all, you have to define where the most vulnerable regions are. Then priorities must be set: What are the most important areas that need to be reforested?? Then it is necessary not only to help forest owners financially, but also to provide them with the necessary support and advice, for example, through the state forestry administrations. In addition, the topic must be "Adaptation to climate change" to be anchored more firmly in education and training. What else needs to be paid attention to in general? Ulrich Matthes: The state forestry administrations nationwide are committed to near-natural forest management. This means using native tree species as far as possible, but also keeping an eye on suitable foreign species. And to pay attention to biodiversity and risk diversification by planting mixed forests. So no one-sided economic orientation, which was often in the foreground in the past. As far as private and community forest owners are concerned, a lot depends on consultation. You have to offer targeted training and approach the owners. It is very important that potentially suitable tree species can also naturally rejuvenate, i.e. shed their seeds. If the soil is suitably fertile, the seed can develop into a plant in the spring. Here, however, the so-called game browsing is a gross problem: One must prevent young trees from being eaten by deer or roe deer. Because there are still too many of them in many places, more animals have to be shot. What can Germany learn from other countries and what can it do internationally?? Ulrich Matthes: Germany can learn which tree species have been preserved in southern countries. On the other hand, Germany is one of the most developed countries in terms of near-natural forestry. The other countries can learn a lot from us. There are initiatives in Europe and worldwide to stop deforestation. Germany and the EU must take a stronger stance toward countries such as Brazil, Canada and China, some of which are still clearing forests on a large scale. So the controversial trade agreement between the EU and the South American confederation Mercosur is a mistake? Brazil, which is clearing its rainforest, is one of the countries involved. Ulrich Matthes: Yes, that is a problem, certain conditions had to be attached to these trade agreements in order to prevent this deforestation. There is the demand from a study of the ETH Zurich, that one could and had to reforest worldwide rough areas. But I think the most important thing is to preserve the existing forest areas first. This study has caused quite a stir. Is reforestation the one solution to all problems?? Ulrich Matthes: It is a very significant way of capturing carbon dioxide and storing it in the trees and then also in the wood products. The numbers that were mentioned there seem unrealistically high to me. Is it possible to say how great the potential is that forests offer for climate protection?? Ulrich Matthes: It is difficult to put this into figures. In the above-mentioned study, it is stated that two-thirds of man-made CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere. I would not see it that way, a third would be too rough a figure. But the afforestation or. In any case, forests make an important contribution to global CO2 sequestration.
Ulrich Matthes, forestry graduate and head of the Rhineland-Palatinate Competence Center for Climate Change Impacts at the Research Institute for Forest Ology and Forestry in Trippstadt, Germany.