A third of Germany is made up of forest, so when bark beetles, fungi, drought and storms increased tree mortality to more than 1 million trees since last year, it became a national concern. The loss of Germany’s forests is sparking a crucial Europe-wide discussion on how forests have been managed. Typically, across the EU, forests have been treated either as feedstock for an intensive bioenergy industry, or as untouchable reserves.
Germany’s agricultural minister, Julia Klöckner, acknowledged that “[German] forests are massively damaged”, announcing a forest summit on 25 September 2019. In coming years, significant funds will be allocated to address the crisis.
On 1 August, forestry ministers of five German states (Länder) adopted a “master plan” for German forests. This includes making available 800 million Euro to repair the damage caused, to reforest the damaged areas and to carry out ‘climate-adapted’ forest conversion.
Surprisingly, the plan attributes the damage solely to climate change and not to the management of the forests, although the latter has significantly affected these ecosystems’ ability to withstand outside pressures. The plan continues to support ‘active’ forest management and the use of wood to replace fossil fuel products, even though the demand for these products would exceed what German forests can supply. This, despite the broad acceptance that wood is not a carbon-neutral energy source, and in the face of increasingly strong international opposition to its use.
In response to the government’s plan, more than 70 German NGOs and renowned forest experts demanded a move away from a model that treats forests like a wood factory, toward more ecological forms of management. These alternative forms of management allow overharvested areas to recover, promote the development of older, thicker trees and address the impacts of German forestry relying too exclusively on conifers such as pine and spruce trees. Putting a halt to the inefficient use of wood for bioenergy, improving the management of remaining forests, enforcing forest protection laws and restoring native species would do more to help forests play their full role in climate mitigation.