Why are forests affected by wars?

Tree dieback: Why the German forests are doing worse than expected

In Germany, more trees are dying than previously thought. The persistent drought, storms and the bark beetle are to blame. In order to save the forest sustainably, large parts of its area have to be completely restructured

The damage to the German forest is greater than it has been since the Second World War. This emerges from figures published by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) on Wednesday: The ministry is assuming 245,000 hectares of dead forest area in Germany for 2020. In autumn 2019, the estimates were around 180,000 square meters. North Rhine-Westphalia (68,000 hectares), Thuringia (around 30,000 hectares), Lower Saxony (26,280 hectares) and Hesse (26,100 hectares) are particularly affected.

The BMEL sees "storms, extreme drought, forest fires and bark beetle infestation" as the main reasons for the large area of ​​dead forest.

Today, experts see the storm Frederike in January 2018 as the starting point for the rapid spread of the bark beetle. At that time, numerous trees were uprooted, storm wood lay in the forests for a long time, a paradise for the beetles. The droughts in the following summers weakened the forest and prevented them from successfully defending themselves against the infestation.

Only mixed forests bring sustainable solutions for the German forest

For Ulrich Dohle, Chairman of the Association for German Foresters, the current figures are only the symptom of profound structural problems - on the one hand in the staffing levels of the foresters, on the other hand in the structure of the German forests themselves We have actually been in crisis management for two years, but after the many savings over the past few decades, we are not designed to do that, "he complains. The foresters were actually supposed to reforest the dead forest, but they hardly manage to remove the dead wood from the forest to prevent the bark beetle from spreading further.

Mostly it is spruce that cannot withstand the drought, the bark beetles or storms. These monocultures dominate the German forest area, making up 55 percent. What once ensured rapid reforestation is now becoming a problem: the conifers withstand the difficult conditions brought about by climate change far less badly than a deciduous or mixed forest.

In addition: the spruce populations often rejuvenate their stands by themselves, where trees die, new young trees quickly sprout out of the ground. To break this cycle, it would be important to actively plant deciduous trees, says Dohle. "The renovation we missed over the last few decades is falling on our feet. If we carry on as before, we would need 120 years to convert the structurally poorest monocultures in Germany. But climate change is not giving us that much time."

And winter has hardly created any relaxation for the stressed tree populations: it was too dry, there was no snow for the most part, so it was not able to restore the groundwater supplies, which supply the soil with important nutrients for the roots of the trees.

Even if February was exceptionally humid, Dohl sees no reason for the all-clear: "The layers under the topsoil are dust-dry, as the recent smaller storms have shown again. How that will affect this summer cannot be said one hundred percent. But the long-term consequences will be serious. "