Timber factory or climate protector? : this is what the forest should look like in 2050

Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner presents her forest strategy. The forest is to be transformed in a climate-friendly way, it says. Environmentalists criticize it.

Not a pretty country: German citizens love the forest. 70 percent use it regularly for recreation

When it comes to the forest, Julia Klockner goes into raptures. "Our forest is the most important climate protector, haven of biodiversity, employer and recreation site – it’s a multi-talent," says the agriculture minister.

But the multi-talent is not doing particularly well. Drought and dry conditions in the past three years have weakened many trees to the point that they are no longer able to resist pests such as the bark beetle, and fires have further decimated the forest population. Around 280.000 hectares, roughly the size of the Saarland, are damaged.

With 1.5 billion euros, the federal and state governments are promoting the removal of dead wood in forests and reforestation, and building with wood is also being supported. Klockner emphasizes that the "largest ecological forest conversion program in Germany’s history has been launched".

This is what the forest strategy looks like

She also wants to build on this for the future. On Tuesday, the Forestry Minister presented her "Forest Strategy 2050. It aims to help forests adapt to climate change, better protect biodiversity, guarantee sustainable forest management and preserve the forest as a place of recreation for citizens. Advice, planning and subsidies are to be provided for this purpose.

Forest owners should also be rewarded for the climate protection performance of the forests, said Klockner, concretely this should be decided in the next election period. In the future, 30 percent of new buildings should be built from wood.

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Why the forest is so important

Around one-third of Germany is forested, with 11.4 million hectares of forest in the country. The forest is an important ally in the fight for the climate. Because trees store carbon dioxide. 57 million tons of CO2 are absorbed by the forest alone each year, and another 4.2 million tons are bound up in wood products. If forests did not exist, 14 percent more greenhouse gases would be emitted annually, equivalent to almost 80 percent of road traffic in 2016.

A picture of horror: an area as large as the Saarland must be replanted

But now the good balance is in jeopardy. When forests die, they release the stored carbon dioxide, warns Andreas Bolte, forest expert at the state-run Thunen Institute. "If the forest becomes the source of carbon dioxide instead of continuing to be a carbon dioxide sink, it will be problematic," fears scientist.

Germany is looking for the super tree

It is clear that where trees have died, new ones must be planted. But the big question is: Which trees are the right ones to defy climate change?. And is it really necessary to plant new trees, or shouldn’t we just leave the whole thing to nature itself?? Behind this is the fiercely debated question of meaning between forest owners and environmentalists: is the forest a supplier of wood or a climate protector? And: Can both be reconciled??

Thick air in the environment ministry

The dispute also divides the federal government. Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) resents Klockner for the fact that the CDU politician developed her forest strategy without the Environment Ministry. "Forests are more than wood factories, they play a crucial role in climate protection and the preservation of biodiversity," she told the "Augsburger Allgemeine" newspaper. "We would have liked to discuss this with her, but she was not prepared to do so."

Klockner rejected the criticism. Her department is in charge. Representatives of many associations had been involved in the development of the strategy, it should now be the basis for the upcoming federal government.
However, not only the environment minister, but also the environmental associations feel left out. The Bund fur Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschlands (BUND) criticized the fact that there was hardly any opportunity to make a statement. With her forest strategy, Klockner is doing a "disservice" to the German forest, says BUND chairman Olaf Bandt. Klockner "prefers to protect the short-term economic interests of the forestry and timber lobby instead of the forest".

BUND forest expert Nicola Uhde calls for the proportion of natural forests free of forestry use to be increased from the current 3.2 percent of forest area to at least ten percent in order to strengthen forest biodiversity. The Federal Ministry for the Environment also wants more areas to be managed in a near-natural way and the proportion of natural forests to be increased.

Instead of planting seedlings, Uhde believes that the forest should be left to rejuvenate itself. Native deciduous trees such as oaks, hornbeams, copper beeches and lime trees can cope better with drought, heat and storms than spruces. Conifers, says the environmentalist, should be planted only in admixture. In contrast, forest owners want to plant Douglas firs, coastal firs, red oaks or Japanese larches, which produce higher yields.

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Klockner, too, wants to see conifers planted only at high altitudes, however, and she, too, is focusing primarily on mixed forests. Three-quarters of forest areas are already mixed forests, the minister stresses, so not "conifer plantations". Leaving regeneration to nature alone is not a good idea, according to forest expert Bolte: "Otherwise the spruce will sow another spruce". You need a site-adapted mix of natural regrowth and plantings.

The spruce is the most important tree for forestry

For forest owners, spruce is the most important tree. Spruce wood is readily taken by sawmills and processed into construction timber. The mass death of conifers is therefore causing problems for the forestry industry, partly because the sharp rise in timber prices is hardly being received by many forest owners. "Builders now have to pay 900 euros per solid cubic meter", Georg Schirmbeck, President of the German Forestry Council, is annoyed: "A year ago, it was 300 euros. As a forest owner, however, he gets just 30 euros per cubic meter, he told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Raw material in demand: Wood prices have exploded

How the state helps

,However, government support programs have eased the pain. The funds are well drawn down, says the forest owners’ association. Schirmbeck would like to see aid extended by four years and an increase in the 800 million euros shared by the federal and state governments as part of the joint task of agricultural structure and coastal protection.

In addition to the 800 million euros, the federal government will pay a further 500 million euros as a forest premium if reforestation is carried out in a forestry-certified manner. Klockner considers this requirement to be a success, but the Ministry of the Environment is critical of the certification criteria: "In some systems, the requirement for sustainable forest management hardly goes beyond the minimum legal requirements that apply anyway, and thus hardly has any additional steering effect", said a ministry spokeswoman to the Tagesspiegel. The state aid is supplemented by smaller, additional programs.

A taste for greenery: deer like to eat the young shoots

Reform of the hunting law has failed

What use are reforestation programs if the small plants are nibbled by deer?? Reform of federal hunting law should better protect forests from wildlife. But the project has failed because of the hunters and the resistance from Bavaria, in the Bundestag there was no majority – to the annoyance of forest owners, environmentalists and Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner: "In the next legislative period, the law must be back on the table," said the CDU politician on Tuesday.

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