The year 2018 was a difficult one, and not just for the German forestry industry.
Across central Europe, there were many calamities that are also affecting the market for timer. The draught brought on by the hot summer and storm damage led to a bark beetle infestation across large areas. As a consequence, much more softwood than would normally be harvested had to be cut in German forests.
Under forestry protection law, trees felled by wind, damaged by draught or affected by bark beetles must be removed from forests. According to holzkurier.com, around 27 million solid cubic metres of damaged timber will be put onto the market by the end of the year in Germany alone. This corresponds to half the volume felled in 2017.
As such timber needs to be removed from the forests as quickly as possible, large quantities are ending up on the market at the same time, leading to big price drops. Forest owners are thus facing a significant reduction in income, and their worries are not over yet.
This year’s weather conditions were extremely favourable to bark beetles, so that they were able to reproduce quickly, with up to three generations within one season, and several sister broods. These beetles are able to survive the cold season as larva, pupa or adults, so that their spread will resume the moment the weather gets warmer in spring. Swarming commences as soon as the temperature reaches 16.5°C.
As fast-growing conifer monocultures were the favourite type of forests planted over the past few centuries, Germany is now facing the problem of having to manage large plantations of instable forests that are highly susceptible to the consequences of climate change. The hot summer of 2018 posed a special threat to these instable monocultures where storms, fires and insect infestations caused most damage.
By adopting a policy of planting mixed forests of broadleaf and conifer species, these risks can be significantly reduced. Modern forestry practices are increasingly focussing on preserving our woodlands in a time of climate change, and many forests are already being replanted accordingly. To date, 76 per cent of the woodlands in Germany for instance consist of mixed forests of at least two tree species. Today, the tall stand in most forests is however still dominated by spruce and pine, even in areas that do not offer favourable conditions for these species. A more diverse mixture of species promises to make forests much more resistant, allowing for the sustainable production of hardwood and softwood in the future.
As the hardwood cutting season commences, there is hope that the market will slowly recover. While forestry managers delayed the cutting of softwood as clearing operations continued, they must now cover the demand for hardwood.
The sustainable management of forests will have a positive impact on slowing down climate change. Every tree that is cut down makes space for a new one, which over its lifetime will absorb and store large volumes of CO2 in the form of wood that can be turned into durable products. Due to its attractive properties, timber thus provides a great renewable resource valued by consumers.
In order to utilise locally produced wood and to reduce the imports of timber from other countries, it is important that forest owners who have to date cared little about their production methods are brought on board. By convincing them of the benefits of sustainable management, we can improve the situation considerably. Unfortunately, owners of small forests generally show little interest in the topic. The Waldhilfe and Waldmarktplatz websites aim at changing this, as they are specifically targeting this group, offering lots of useful information and a platform where forest owners can find service providers working within the industry. Owners of forests can contact experts for advice, get in touch with forestry contractors, and find general information about sustainable management methods. The above online platforms are thus not only valuable resources for forest owners, but also enable the industry to work more closely together through networking.
In our time of climate change, both the forestry industry and society must make a long-term commitment to growing healthy and strong forests, to the benefit of future generations.
Author Richard Discher & Florian Gagel (wald-wird-mobil.de)
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