The forest is in great danger

The french woods are in bad shape. This is mainly due to the drought of recent years. Not only spruce monocultures are affected, but also sustainably managed near-natural deciduous and mixed forests that have been taken out of management. Scientific measurements at the forest climate stations (WKS) of the bavarian state forestry institute (LWF) prove this with frightening clarity.

"Normally, the leaves first turn colorful. Now the trees are shedding it while it is still green", gerald ziegmann states. The forest manager kneels in front of one of the ten catch baskets at the forest climate station near schmerb in the ebracher forest, which collect what falls from the trees. Ziegmann wears laboratory gloves and puts leaves, beechnuts and small twigs into a sterile bag, which is sealed before and after the process.

The early leaf shedding is just one indication of the heat and drought stress the trees are under in this forest stump that has been taken out of use. Four rows of five columns of rainwater collectors are positioned next to the litter collectors. Here we measure how much of the – already low – precipitation arrives at various points on the forest floor. Not much again this year.

Under laboratory conditions

Each week, ziegmann has to fill one container after the other into laboratory bottles and label them precisely. They are sent to a laboratory of the LWF in freising, as are the leaf tutes and many other samples and measurement results. Everything there is also chemically tested, for example, for harmful substances and nutrients.

"We are sampling here under laboratory conditions", benjamin gobel, the local district manager responsible for the station, explains. Gregor schiebl, head of the department for the six forest districts in the bamberg district, also emphasizes that the WKS ebrach is not just any hobby facility, but part of a scientific network of 19 forest climate stations in bavaria.

A look at the measurement results provided by the station in recent years puts worry lines on the foreheads of forestry experts. But all it takes is a professional look upwards – at the trunks and the treetops. Dunn it has become, the otherwise so dense roof of the books, at the origin partially lost the bark.

"It’s already autumn", schiebl notes on this sunny, warm september day. The visitor sees a green forest picture, but the view upwards shows that none of the crowns of the old trees are undamaged.

The station provides information that is consulted for the management of forests, he explains as he moves on to the next measuring device. There stand a row of coarse glass bulbs. Vacuum is used here to extract moisture from the forest floor in various layers – at depths of 20, 50, 80 and 120 centimeters. The glass flasks are all empty.

Roots in the dry

So in the area where the roots normally absorb the major part of the flux needed by the tree, it is bone dry. "With the water in the humus (the uppermost soil layer) was this year not much going on", station supervisor ziegmann reports from his regular observations. "That’s why there is practically no water in the deeper soil layers." A healthy coarse beech needs about 300 liters of water per day, gobel explains.

"This is a highly dramatic situation", says schiebl. Because it hasn’t just been like this since the end of august. The statistical analysis presented by gobel shows that this summer the undersupply of the trees already began at the beginning of july, i.E. Already in the first half of the vegetation period. The dry year 2018, when the water supply to the trees "only" slipped into the red zone at the beginning of august, is having an effect. "It is not five to twelve. It has already struck twelve", says schiebl in view of this. And states, almost with resignation: "here a natural deciduous forest is dying for us."

But the experienced forestry man is immediately combative again. "We want our beech and oak forests to survive in the long term." The situation is however no longer to be solved by mabnahmen of the forest management. "This is a task for society as a whole. Everyone has to change his behavior!", he demands in view of these effects of climate change.

These are also clearly visible during the subsequent visit to a private forest. Gottfried geiling has been managing a community forest of four owners here for decades. "I’ve been going into the woods for 50 years – and I’ve loved it. But the last years it does not make any more spab", he says immediately. He reports on the hurricanes, from wiebke (1990) to kyrill (2007) to fabienne (2018), which have largely swept away the spruce stand in particular. Beech trees are regrown.

Everything done right

The heavy storms have become more frequent, he notes. Geiling has rebuilt the forest, has rejuvenated it, has "done everything right", as the foresters gobel and schiebl confirm to him. And yet the forest seems to be at the end of its rope. And "the timber market is in the dumps. In the past, the forest was the farmers’ savings bank", says geiling. Today you almost have to bring money when you make wood."

"This is a situation that is not the fault of the forest owner", schiebl notes. He cannot offer a simple solution. As a farmer, he knows that there are good years and bad years, says geiling. But now? "If another year like this comes (like 2018 and 2019), then I’m curious what will be left at all."


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