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Damaged wood © shutterstock

central europe

Alarming dimension of damage

Article by Gerd Ebner (translated by Eva Guzely) | 03.06.2020 - 14:35

Nearly 500 million m³ of damaged wood until 2024

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© Holzkurier

Based on the course of previous calamities, published forecasts and numerous expert discussions, Holzkurier’s editorial team assumes that the peak is reached in 2019-2021. Even if one supposes that the calamity is slowly subsiding, another 500 million m³ of damaged wood would accumulate in the coming five years, and thus a volume of nearly 750 million m³ over a period of ten years.

Up to four generations

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© Holzkurier

The Czech Republic has seen the earliest and biggest change in climate. Since the beginning of the 1990s, summer rainfalls have halved in Moravia. The record summer of 2018 created the perfect conditions for four generations of bark beetles. In 2019, two generations were observed, and there are supposed to be only two generations in 2020 as well. Spruce is suffering the most from summer droughts and heat. Last year, 31 million m³ of damaged wood are assumed to have been harvested in the Czech Republic which exceeds regular harvest (30 million m³). Holzkurier’s editorial team expects a further increase in damaged wood this year (42 million m³). The think tank Czech Forest even predicts a volume of 50 million m³ in 2020. According to a shared assessment, the peak should be reached in 2021. Holzkurier fears that 56 million m³ might accumulate, while Czech Forest expects a volume of 80 to 120 million m³.

16% decrease in spruce stocks

From 2021 onwards, the calamity should subside – among other things because spruce is going to vanish in many lower-lying areas and in particularly dry regions. Since 2018, there has been a decrease in spruce stocks in the Czech Republic. The head of the Czech State Forests, Josef Vojacek, puts it at already -16%, in relation to the most recent forest inventory (see article "Lesy CR fears a harvest of 15 million m³ this year"). According to available statistics, the volume of damaged wood amounted to 75 million m³ in the years from 2015 to 2019. Based on Holzkurier’s projections, another 210 million m³ are to be expected from 2020 to 2024. This would mean a halving of the current 400 million m³ of spruce stocks.

Harvest often not possible

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© Holzkurier

Harvest capacities are not nearly keeping pace with these figures. Most of the damaged wood is going to remain in the forests in the coming years, unless the Czech government really implements the drastic measures which it announced already last year, for example the deployment of the military for the harvest of damaged wood. Holzkurier does not expect a substantial increase in harvest capacities in the coming years (currently around 30 million m³/year). At the same time, Central European forest technology companies are at full capacity in Germany and Austria as well. Thus, a big part of the Czech damaged wood is not going to be put on the market but is likely to remain in the forests. According to the Federal Forest Inventory (BWI 2012), around 850 million m³ of spruce are growing at altitudes below 600 meters in Germany, and 376 million m³ above this level. Especially at lower altitudes, large parts of spruce forests have been struggling since 2015.

Volumes slowly decreasing

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© Holzkurier

Official data put the volume of damaged wood in Germany at 135 million m³ in the years from 2015 to 2019. The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture expects 55 million m³ of damaged wood this year. Adding the storm damage of last winter, the volume is going to reach at least 60 to 65 million m³ in 2020 – and would thus be below last year’s level (around 70 million m³ of damaged wood).

More positive news came from the Ministry of Agriculture: “In 2020, the expected percentage of damaged softwood is considerably lower than last year (2019: 63.7 million m³)”.

Peak now reached

Despite the big “iron population”, Holzkurier’s editorial team expects that the peak of the bark beetle calamity was reached in 2019/20. If there is not another “summer of the century” like the one of 2018, the volumes of damaged wood should decrease from this year on. Harvest volumes could fall from the current 70 million m³ a year to a normal level which is well below this figure. The five-year average of 2011-2015 was 54 million m³ a year.

375 million m³ of damaged wood over ten years

If this rather optimistic forecast comes true, the volume of damaged wood still amounts to 240 million m³ in the years from 2020 to 2024, and thus to 375 million m³ over a period of ten years. Contrary to the Czech Republic, relatively little dead wood has remained in German forests so far. German exporters managed to create a “pressure relief valve” by shipping log wood to China in containers. In Germany, exports rocketed from 200,000 m³ in 2018 to 3.8 million m³ in 2019. In relative terms, the Czech Republic was even more successful with 2.3 million m³ (+1255%). Together, these two countries provided 14% of the Chinese log wood demand. Austria only exported 3,000 m³ to China in 2019 (all data by China Customs Statistics).

Topography now an advantage

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© Holzkurier

Contrary to the Czech Republic and Germany, most Austrian spruce stocks are located at altitudes above 600 meters (580 million m³ or 84%). In the Alpine country, the accumulation of damaged wood is thus concentrated mostly on the lower-lying states of Upper and Lower Austria.

Still on a high level

Between the years of 2015 and 2019, the volume of damaged wood amounted to 41 million m³ in Austria. In 2019, around 12 million m³ were recorded – a level which could be reached this year as well. 2020 is an extreme mast year which is weakening trees. A dry winter was followed by an equally dry spring – until the first noteworthy rainfalls started in the bark beetle hotspots. Past calamities show that the beetle population in forests is probably still going to be big in 2021. Based on available information, Holzkurier’s editorial team expects a marked decrease only after next year. If these forecasts come true, another 48 million m³ of damaged wood are going to accumulate in the five-year period of 2020-2024. The percentage of damaged wood would slowly fall from currently two thirds of regular annual harvest to below 50%.