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forests and climate change

The dimensions of damage in Europe’s forests

Article by Holzkurier (translated by Eva Guzely) | 15.06.2021 - 15:27

Harvest up to one third higher than normal

The course of the beetle catastrophe in Germany in particular is responsible for the steady increase of the average annual harvest in Central Europe in previous years. Before calamity struck, i.e. from 2010 to 2014, an average of 88 million m³ were harvested a year. In the years from 2015 to 2020, the average was already 101 million m³. With 120 million m³ in 2019 and 111 million m³ last year, there has been a clear deterioration of the situation in forests.

With normal weather conditions, Holzkurier expects a gradual improvement of the situation in the years from 2021 to 2025. However, this would still mean a volume of around 100 million m³ a year in Central Europe, i.e. considerably more than before the calamity struck. In other words: 369 million m³ accumulated from 2015 to last year, and another 366 million m³ could follow until 2025. However, the percentage of damaged wood is expected to decrease slowly from currently 80% to around 60% in 2024 or 2025.

40% decrease in damaged wood forecast for 2021

According to a survey carried out by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the German federal states expect the amount of damaged wood to decrease by almost 40% year on year to 39.6 million m³ in 2021. The area which has to be reforested is estimated to be almost 76,000 hectares big this year (-45% compared to last year).

Based on the current survey among the federal states, the Ministry estimates that in 2020, 66.2 million m³ of damaged wood accumulated in German forests. Softwood logs account for 60.6 million m³ and hardwood logs for 5.7 million m³. The biggest quantity, i.e. 13.2 million m³, accumulated in North Rhine-Westphalia, followed by Hesse with 10.1 million m³, Bavaria with 8 million m³ and Baden-Württemberg with 7.3 million m³.

In the years 2018 to 2020, a total of 170.6 million m³ of damaged wood was recorded. Including the first forecast for 2021, the volume would reach 201.2 million m³.

As for 2021, the German federal states forecast 35.1 million m³ of damaged softwood and 4.5 million m³ of damaged hardwood. Compared to last year, this would be a decrease of 42% and 21% for softwood and hardwood, respectively.

In 2019 and 2020, the area which had to be reforested following biotic and abiotic damage was 227,200 hectares in total, of which 138,300 hectares needed reforestation in 2020.

Czech Republic: damaged wood at a stable but high level

Talking to the news agency CTK, Czech Minister of Agriculture Miroslav Toman quantifies the extent of the damage and the log harvest as follows: The volume of damaged wood totaled 25 to 30 million m³ in 2020, of which 22 to 25 million m³ were already harvested. The quantity of damaged wood thus remained exactly at the level, which the Czech Statistical Office (CZSO) officially reported for 2019. However, log harvest decreased by 5 million m³ compared to the previous year, which means that more beetle-infested trees were left in the forest.

Projected quantities too high

Based on the data available so far, there is hope that – with similar weather conditions as in 2020 – there will be no further increase in the volume of damaged wood this year. In previous years, Czech forest experts and think tanks had predicted up to 60 million m³ of damaged wood a year, i.e. a doubling of what has recently accumulated. Such an explosion of quantities does not seem to be imminent at the moment, though.

Instead, it is rather safe to assume that the years 2019 to 2021 represent the peak of the calamity. Either way: For Czech Environment Minister Richard Brabec (ANO), the bark beetle calamity is “the greatest disaster for forests since the times of Maria Theresa”. After all, the volume of damaged wood amounts to 113 million m³ from 2014 to 2020 according to research done by Holzkurier.

The cool, wet weather which set in in May 2020 kept the bark beetle calamity in the Czech Republic from deteriorating any further. Nonetheless, there was no substantial improvement of the situation in Czech forests. Rather, there was a geographical shift of the problem: In the regions of Moravia and Vysocina, the situation improved slightly compared to the previous year. In the Liberec region, on the other hand, the quantity of damaged wood increased. Lesy CR planned to hire additional staff to fell and remove all beetle-infested trees on the border with the Bohemian Switzerland National Park by the end of February.

Halving of damaged wood in Austria

According to estimates by the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture (LKÖ), the volume of damaged wood in Austria amounted to around 5.8 million m³ in 2020 and thus halved compared to the year before. According to the cooperation platform FHP, regular logging is expected to be above the level recorded in 2019.

Last year, overall logging amounted to 16.4 million m³ according to an estimate by FHP (2019: 18.9 million m³). When subtracting the volume of damaged wood, a total of 10.6 million m³ were harvested as part of regular logging (2019: 7.2 million m³).

According to estimates by the LKÖ, the volume of beetle-damaged wood fell from 4.3 million m³ in 2019 to 2.4 million m³ in 2020 (-1.9 million m³). Storms and heavy snow caused 3.4 million m³ of damaged wood in Austrian forests. Here, a halving of the volume was recorded compared to the year before. The most marked year-on-year decreases were reported in Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Carinthia, analyzes Martin Höbart, head of the Forest and Wood Department of the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture.

FHP estimates that a total of 16.4 million m³ were harvested last year (2019: 18.9 million m³). When subtracting the volume of damaged wood, a total of 10.6 million m³ were harvested as part of regular logging (2019: 7.8 million m³).