• “The forests are collapsing”

    Sounding the alarm on forests: tree advisor Markus von Willert in the woods. Photo: private.

    Markus von Willert is the editor of waldhilfe.de, an advisory website for private forest owners. He has also worked as a forest & sustainability expert for the Federal Association of German sawmill and timber industry (DeSH).

    What are the challenges for forest management in the face of climate change?

    The transforming conditions are mainly noticeable in changed rainfall, drought and heat. All this leads to stress and the weakening of the trees, which then allows bugs to invade the trees more easily. An example of this is the European spruce bark beetle, which has attacked huge stands in Germany in recent years. As a result, the forests are collapsing. So far, the focus has only been on softwood. Where they grow in man-made monocultures and at higher altitudes, they are very unstable. We knew that already. But now we are also seeing a weakening of forests where we would never have expected. Even near-natural beech forests are suffering from climate change.

    How do we need to transform the forests so that we can continue to harvest wood in the future?

    We need to find a way to still gain wood from trees, because we will urgently need them in the next decades, for example in buildings. On the other hand, we need to think about how to make them more resilient: Less vulnerable to stress from drought, heat and bugs. This will not happen quickly, however, because the choices we make for forests today will have to last for up to two hundred years.

    What do you recommend?

    Risk diversification makes the most sense: it is recommended to mix different tree species and also to include foreign tree species in the mix. However, this often clashes with conservationists, who classically only want native tree species in the forest. But our climate will no longer be “natural” anyway. Mediterranean tree species or those from North America may have a much better potential to cope with the climate in a hundred or two hundred years’ time.

    This article is part of the "Forests in the firing line" edition
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    “You have to burn with everything”
    "The forests are collapsing"