The catastrophe under the bark

Bastian sunkel matthias vetter sums up briefly. Just as the farmer and forest owner drives out of steinbach am wald, he points to the brown of the frankenwald: "the forest is suffering." It’s not hard to see that he doesn’t just mean the trees, but himself as well.

Forest owners also suffer. They clear out the forest, tree by tree, where the bark beetle has laid its eggs. But he must first find these trees. Forest owners often fail to keep up with logging in inaccessible areas. In front of and in the woods the tribes are towering. The works are full. The bark beetle is spreading at such a rate that the bavarian farmers’ association speaks of an impending "catastrophe" and the head of the office for food, agriculture and forestry in stadtsteinach also paints a drastic picture of the situation: "the kafer is everywhere: in the hair, in the clothes." Head of the department michael schmidt experienced it firsthand in april, when the last of the kafer swarmed out.

Forest owners, officials and the farmers’ association are working against the clock: in the next two weeks, the oats will swarm out again. Every tree with pests that is not removed from the forest by then will make the problem worse. Erwin schwarz, chairman of the bavarian farmers’ association in the kronach district, has therefore formulated his press release drastically. He writes of the "catastrophe in the forest". He thanks the forest owners for their commitment, but also warns that this could end with the rising costs in the fight against the bark beetle. The price of wood is at a low point, reforestation is expensive and complicated, and the state’s 80 million euro support package does not include the use of chemicals. Erwin kreisobmann schwarz therefore calls for a change of direction. The use of insecticides must be "quick and unbureaucratic on all land, including arable land and grassland, as well as in standing forest". It was an exceptional situation, similar to corona virus, he says. Sagewerke, demands the district chairman, had to accept domestic wood instead of eastern european – even if he describes regional sager as "exemplary" in this respect denotes. The government must also, without any embargoes, provide "subsidies, purchase programs, land-use bonuses, bursary programs, loan programs" as further options prufen, in order not to let the work of many generations kaputgehen.

Ministry concerned about the forest

The situation in the franconian forest is "alarming", the ministry of agriculture in munich also confirms in response to a question from the FT. In eastern lower bavaria and parts of lower franconia, too, there is a high risk that the bark beetle will reach massive proportions this year. "All forest owners are called upon to check their forests intensively now and to knock out all approved mabnahme to the fight." But the ministry describes the use of chemical agents as a "last resort. An additional demand therefore excludes it. Erwin schwarz is not satisfied. He calls for "more drastic reductions", because the "chemical-free use has not yet had the desired effect" has shown.

Klaus muller-gei shapes his hands as if he were lording it over an invisible opponent. This is how you can imagine the blue tinge that the bark beetle leaves on infested wood. Blue like the skin discoloration that forms when a person runs out of air. If this happens to a tree, the wood is no longer suitable for surfaces and the price drops. Klaus muller-gei is one of the two managers of the sawmill of the same name in wallenfels and he too can sympathize with the forest farmers who complain about the poor price and the overcrowding of the sawmills: "it always hurts to have to turn someone down." The price is determined by the market and because of the oversupply, triggered by the clear-cutting, the prices are in the cellar. He already gets his wood only from the region, from a radius of an estimated 50 kilometers around wallenfels to thuringia, the businessman reveals.

Forest owner vetter drives a little deeper into the forest. He owns around 20 hectares of forest in the region and stops at one of the many gaps in the thicket that have been left bare. In the 1930s, his family planted spruce trees on the flatlands. They could have stayed a little longer – if the bark beetle had not attacked them. For the last solid cubic meter of spruce wood, he received just 31 euros, he reports. Two years ago it was three times that amount. Next to the rootstocks are two piles of wood chips, which are causing trouble for the farmer. Instead of using the energy carrier to generate energy, forest owners chop up their wood and blow it back into the forest because they often have no other option. The bark beetle is defeated, but the value and meaning of the wood lie as a heap of waste on the forest floor.

Red flat: frankenwald

The landesanstalt fur wald- und forstwirtschaft (state forestry agency) shows a bark oak monitoring system on an online map of bavaria: the frankenwald is marked in red on the map. Not a good sign. It is from a "danger level" the speech. A rapid spread of the bark beetle species is expected.

Head of department michael schmidt has taken a look at the forest from above with the help of a drone. He, too, comes to the same conclusion: the next sprouting of the pests in about two weeks could have fatal consequences. "We are in a mass propagation that will not be stopped even by rain." The bark beetle is the symptom. The disease is climate change and the associated drought. "The forest owners are the first to get the bill for the climate change caused by society as a whole", says schmidt.

So is insecticide use the last resort? Michael schmidt says the subsidy is a political decision. However, the use is allowed. For the bee, the approved product fastac forest is not dangerous and it decomposes quickly, explains michael schmidt. However, the agent must not be used near water, because it is deadly for the fish. Forest owner vetter agrees with the farmers’ association: if you want to defeat the bark beetle, there is no way around the use of insecticides. The agent is already being used on tree trunks in and around the forest. Without chemicals, the logs had to be stored at least 500 meters above the ground.

The frankenwald consists of around 80 percent spruce, explains michael schmidt, head of the department. For decades, spruce was the "bread and butter" tree the forest owner. It grows faster, straighter and requires less maintenance than, for example, pine trees. It does relatively well on the mineral-poor frankenwald soil. Up to 80 percent of the spruce trunk can be processed into valuable construction timber. In the case of oak, the figure is no more than 50 percent. These are all reasons why the frankenwald has developed into a monoculture with flooding, mining and the booming post-war timber industry. In the cold and rain it is unproblematic. But with persistent drought, the bark beetle has an easy time of it.

Reforestation has already begun. But which tree species will be the "tree of the future"? Even the head of the department, schmidt, cannot answer the question of whether the forest is in danger. There is simply no certainty about how the climate will develop. Currently, forest owners are experimenting with oak, douglas fir, beech, and even cedar. "Forest restructuring is a generational task." In the meantime, the goal is to save as many trees as possible.

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