It’s a good thing that trees can’t speak. Otherwise a walk in the forest would have been no fun for years. Only every fifth tree is healthy, according to the recently presented forest condition report by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. Germany’s trees suffer from dryness and drought.
This applies above all to the spruces. Pests such as the bark beetle have an easy time because the weakened conifers do not have the strength to enclose their enemies in resin and render them harmless like healthy trees would. Other tree species suffer from fungal diseases. Storms uproot the trees, forest fires destroy large stocks. “Especially in the forest, the consequences of the climate crisis are visible,” says the coalition agreement. “At the same time, it is essential for achieving our climate protection goals. Species-rich and climate-resilient forests with predominantly native tree species must be created through targeted forest conversion.”
Everyone must pull together, the agricultural ministers of the federal states agree with Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens). At a special meeting on Monday, they discussed how the forest can be prepared to face the challenges of the climate crisis – and how the state can support the forest owners in the conversion. The German forest relieves the atmosphere of around 62 million tons of carbon annually, which is seven percent of the emissions.
The forest cools the ground and air, it stores water and provides animals with a habitat. Özdemir announced that the services that the forest brings to biodiversity should be rewarded in the future. In its biodiversity strategy, the EU Commission decided not to use ten percent of European forests for production for reasons of climate protection. Özdemir also speaks of an “extensification of use”. Set-aside premiums for forest owners should not be available until 2023 at the earliest. “If forest owners meet certain ecological criteria in the forest, and thus more ecosystem services are provided, then they can earn money with it,” a spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Ministry told the Tagesspiegel. “These guidelines can also include leaving forests to develop naturally in limited areas.”
A timber construction offensive is intended to help forest owners. “Wood is our most important renewable raw material,” emphasized Özdemir. Wood stores carbon dioxide, while other building materials such as cement, steel or aluminum release carbon dioxide during production.
But the forest owners also want concrete, financial help. In the disaster years 2018 and 2019, when pictures of bare forests in the Harz Mountains made the news, the then Federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner (CDU) launched an aid package that is still running today: the federal and state governments will provide a total of 1.5 by 2023 Billions of euros are available to deal with the consequences of storms and drought, to reforest damaged areas with adapted deciduous and coniferous species and to support forest owners in sustainable forest management. “These funds are in very high demand and are received by the forest owners,” a ministry spokeswoman told the Tagesspiegel.
It is now planned to finance additional services by forest owners for climate protection and biodiversity. A total of 900 million euros are earmarked for this in the government draft of the federal budget for the years 2022 to 2026. First, 200 million euros are to flow to the forest owners.
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Agriculture Minister Till Backhaus (SPD) is not enough. In 2018, more than 400,000 hectares of forest were destroyed as a result of drought and dryness, said Backhaus, and 50 billion euros were needed to remove damaged wood and reforest. “The forest is one of the most important partners in the fight against climate change,” emphasizes Backhaus. He doesn’t think much of “extensification”, on the contrary: “We need protection through use”. The Social Democrat also has an eye on the CO2 tax. One hectare of forest stores eight tons of CO2 a year, with a CO2 tax of 30 euros per tonne, one hectare of forest provides an ecosystem service of 240 euros. Backhaus wants to see that rewarded.
He also wants to protect the forest from too many wild animals. This should actually be regulated in an amendment to the federal hunting law, which failed in the last legislative period. Özdemir would like to tackle the project again, but sees himself prevented from doing so by the coalition agreement. Brandenburg, on the other hand, is now working on a state law – to the annoyance of the hunters.