Panel discussion about the availability of hardwood: host Moderator Ohnesorge, Dr. Heuer, Strohmeyer, Gebhardt, Pollmeier, Becker and host Schmitt (from left) © Gerd Ebner

germany / austria

Supply at the limit already

Article by Gerd Ebner (translated by Eva Guzely) | 25.01.2023 - 12:20

All tree species are struggling

“All tree species are struggling to cope with the extreme weather conditions of the years 2018 to 2020,” Dr. Andreas Bolte, Head of the Thünen Institute of Forest Ecosystems in Hamburg, said at the beginning of his lecture. “Last year, the poor condition of the pine was noticeable. There has also been a further increase in damage to beech and oak.”

In Germany, insects have been the primary cause of damaged wood since 2019. In 2020, for example, 75% of the log harvest volume was not planned. In 2021, that percentage was lower but still at 61%. “The years where we have only 20% of damaged wood are of the past. We have to prepare for 40% of log wood damaged by biotic factors alone, and add to that possible damage caused by storms,” Bolte predicted.


In Germany, the supply of softwood logs will halve by 2050; marked decrease from the 2030s, harvest volume of spruce -25 million m³, harvest volume of pine -10 million m³ – these are the main points depicted in this chart by Dr. Bolte from the Thünen Institute © Bolte/Thünen Institute

Up to €43 billion necessary to adapt forests

Bolte puts the loss of forest area in Germany at 400,000 hectares already (For comparison: that is one tenth of the total forest area in Austria). In order to reforest this area and adapt the remaining forests, it would be necessary to make changes to 95,000 hectares each year. Currently, Germany is at only 22,000 hectares a year. The cost for these measures may total up to €43 billion by 2050. “Only then will we have better-adapted forests,” Bolte emphasized in his lecture.

Halving of spruce wood volumes

From 2050, Germany would harvest less than 50 million m³ of log wood a year, 30 million m³ of which are expected to be damaged wood (harvest in 2021: 81 million m³; average logging from 2010 to 2014: 55 million m³/year).

In the coming decade, relatively big volumes of softwood will be available on the market due to the accumulation of damaged wood. “Then, we should reach a tipping point, because the growth comes from even smaller areas and volumes,” Bolte analyzed and once again repeated a highly topical statement: “From 2050, the amount of softwood available will halve compared to today.”

“2050 is closer than we think,” Leonhard Nossol, President of Arbeitsgemeinschaft Rohholz, warned. “Importing more log wood is not an alternative, since spruce is scarce everywhere. We will have to learn to live with damaged wood,” Nossol added. “At ForstBW, we refer to it as unplanned logging and not as damaged wood. Otherwise, people assume that the wood is of inferior quality,” Max Reger, Chairman of ForstBW, told the audience.

Calamity shifts focus towards harvesting spruce

A panel discussion was dedicated to the topic of availability of hardwood. What Matthias Becker of Wittgenstein-Berleburg’sche Rentkammer explained in Berlin may be symptomatic of the situation: “We are massively affected by the spruce calamity. As a result, the harvest of beech and oak log wood was recently put on the back burner. However, harvesting hardwood at full throttle is difficult, too, given the shortage of specialized forestry companies.”

Volker Gebhardt, Member of the Board of Thüringen Forst, talked about an equally dramatic situation in Thuringia: “Our main goal is to save the Thuringian Forest. For the third year in a row, the harvest of spruce log wood is twice the normal logging volume.” All tree species are suffering from climate change. When it comes to beech, there are already “huge areas of dead forest that we can hardly enter because it is simply too dangerous”.

“The best option would be to market the hardwood locally as firewood. Nevertheless, we are trying to supply our industrial customers. However, it was and is difficult to focus on hardwood when we get only €60/m³ for beech logs and €110/m³ for dry spruce,” Gebhardt continues.

Short-time work due to scarce raw material

As a result of massive problems with supply, Pollmeier Massivholz had to introduce short-time work several times last year. “Now that we finally have state-of-the-art machines to produce affordable products, we can’t deliver them because the raw material is scarce,” Ralf Pollmeier complained on the podium. His company already stopped marketing its Baubuche products “because we can hardly serve new customers anymore”.

30% protected – but 30% of what?

Dr. Eckhard Heuer once again confirmed the will of the German Ministry of Forestry to implement the EU’s biodiversity strategy, i.e. “the protection of at least 30% of the land area, of which one third, that is at least 10%, will even be put under strict protection. However, there is room for interpretation on the part of the EU as to what that means exactly,” Heuer added, leaving a small back door open. It also remained unclear whether “land area” refers to the entire German federal territory or “only” to forested areas. 32% of Germany’s territory are covered by forests. In the most extreme case, almost 30% of forests might thus be under strict protection and all remaining forests “under less protection”.

Use of wood necessary to become carbon neutral

“We can only become carbon-neutral if we use wood,” Pollmeier put it. “Every cubic meter that isn’t used increases the pressure on the industry.”

Gebhardt estimates that 40% of the German beech forests are already under protection. Even bigger protected areas likely will have a massive negative impact on the species.

“The importance of timber construction will continue to increase. ‘Wood regrows’ – this argument is increasingly crucial,” Johannes Schwörer argued. “However, we have to work harder on resource efficiency. We will have to assess whether building in meter-thick wood is the right way.”

Increased use of wood for energy generation while restricting the use of wood – that is too much.

Ralf Pollmeier

Using the wood that grows in them, yes, but the world keeps turning! Forests have other functions, too, which will likely become more important to society.

Dirk Alfter

Resource efficiency is increasingly important. Meter-thick wooden walls hardly make sense from that point of view.

Johannes Schwörer

Only the use of wood will make it possible for us to become carbon-neutral in the future.

Ralf Pollmeier

Yes, the biodiversity strategy requires 30% of the land area to be protected, a third of which has to be under strict protection.

Eckhard Heuer