Concern over the German forests is increasing in awareness with the urgency of climate crisis. Forests deliver wood, offer habitat for animals and humans and store CO2. There are over 90 billion trees in Germany that cover a third of the country. In comparison, the rate of lost land for deforestation globally is 30 million hectars – an area the size of Great Britain and Ireland together.
Forests are bio-indicators of how well the environment is doing. A forest is an organism or a biological response that reveals pollutants and other disturbing influences by displaying symptoms or taking measures. In the 1980s, the first ‘Waldsterben’ (lit.: ‘dying of the forests’) in Germany was documented by the high levels of toxicity in the forests due to industrial and air pollution. Pressures from environmental movements and people-led campaigns led the government to introduce regulations from air pollution and emissions of atmospheric gases caused by anthropogenic activities. As a result, the emissions of sulphur dioxides were reduced by almost 80 to 90%. Subsequent policies such as the introduction of unleaded petrol, catalysators in vehicles and the desulphurisation of fuel oils relieved the pressure of the forests and were later included in European policies.
These days, the effects of the climate crisis such as droughts, heat and irregular temperatures cause concern over ‘Waldsterben 2.0’. Today’s forests are shaped by humans, and no longer primeval. Most of German forests are coniferous trees, such as spruces that were planted for the Reconstruction of Germany after WWII to provide for wood as quickly as possible. Spruces grow quickly but have shallow roots, which is not ideal for droughts. They are now under attack of the bark-beetle that thrives in the hot summer temperatures. The other majority of trees are pines, which are grown on a large scale as well. Around a third is covered by beech and oak trees, the native tree species in Germany. They have been particularly weakened by the unusual changes in temperatures. The common beech, often regarded as the ‘mother tree of the German forest’ that has been planted to reintroduce native species, is showing signs of distress.
There are different suggestions to improving the situation. There is a general consensus that different tree species should be planted together as they fare better than a monoculture forest of spruces or pines. One is a demand for planting drought-resistant trees. There are different sources citing different species, such as douglas fir, giant firs, red oaks, durmast oaks, cherry trees, Norway maples. This is all specific to the environment and geography of the land, but it seems like that most German native species do not fare well compared to non-native species. What makes these decisions even harder is also the fact that there is a lack of trained personal and financial resources pooled for these reforestration projects on a national scale.