29,000 hectares – that’s how much forest there is in Berlin. And where there is forest, the risk of forest fires will also increase in the coming years with the increasing heat caused by climate change. But how well is Berlin prepared for this?
The Senate Environmental Administration says the risk of forest fires is no more pronounced in the Berlin forests than elsewhere. At the same time, the capital has a decisive advantage: the visitors to the Berlin forests represent “a very reliable early warning system,” says Jan Thomsen, spokesman for the environmental administration. That is a difference to less visited forests in Brandenburg.
Environment Senator Bettina Jarasch had already called for consequences on Thursday due to the increased risk of forest fires. Disaster and civil protection should be given a higher priority, but also the cooperation between the fire brigade and forestry, she said. In Berlin, however, this is already going very well. Both bodies would have agreed on improved forest fire monitoring and optimized extinguishing routes.
Years ago, Berlin started to rely more on mixed forest. Mixed forests are wetter and therefore less flammable. “Oak trees, for example, are even seen as fire reducers,” says Julia Schneider, spokeswoman for forest policy for the Berlin Greens parliamentary group. She is of the opinion that the conversion to mixed forest in Berlin is going well.
For this conversion, 1.6 million euros are earmarked in the Berlin budget for 2022 under the item “Mixed forest program” and 2.15 million for 2023. About half of Berlin’s forest area, 15,000 hectares, is part of mixed forest programs.
As early as June, MEP Schneider and her parliamentary group colleague Benedikt Lux called for the planning of forest paths for fire brigade access roads and the installation of more fire sensors in a six-point immediate program.
According to the environmental administration, sensor-based forest fire monitoring is actually to be expanded: two to three additional sensors in the Grunewald and Tegel areas are to be added, which are to be integrated into the Brandenburg warning network. So far there are fire sensors in Berlin in the forest area on the Müggelberg.
The system of extinguishing water wells – i.e. the hydrants in the forest – is also to be expanded: the number of connections is to be increased from 42 to 50. According to the environmental administration, the permits for this have already been obtained.
Danny Freymark, environmental policy spokesman for the CDU, welcomes these planned measures. But he is also of the opinion: “Berlin is not well prepared for further forest fires.” For a decade, savings were made in the Berlin forests. “Fortunately, we changed that together in the current household,” says Freymark. But he also says: “Basically, we should already be anticipating future forest fires – and significantly increase the budget for environmental policy.”