The forests around the globe are dwindling. One of the main reasons for this is forest clearance – and things are not getting any better. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has just fired Ricardo Galvão, head of the Institute for Space Research after he reported massive clearance of the rainforest which can be seen on satellite pictures. In June of this year, 920 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest were lost, 88 percent more than in June 2018. According to Galvão, 212 percent more trees were felled in July 2019 than in July 2018.
Forest clearance is likely to continue at a similar pace, as Bolsonaro has already announced that it will be permitted for soy, wheat, and corn cultivation or as grassland for cattle. There will be no new protected areas in the Amazon region. He also cut the budget for climate protection and does not shy away from displacing the indigenous peoples living in the forest in order to be able to continue clearing forests.
At the same time, the rest of the world is talking about an urgently needed reforestation of the forests in order to counteract further warming of the earth. In Germany, Environment Minister Julia Klöckner is planning a national forest summit in September. “Our forests has already been massively damaged,” she told the Rheinische Post. “Only by joining forces can we tackle the mammoth task of saving our forests – not only for ourselves but for future generations as well.”
The forests between Flensburg and Lake Constance are also massively damaged, primarily by storms or vermin. According to the Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald (SDW, German Association for the Conservation of Forests), 120,000 hectares have already died, mainly spruce, pine, beech, and oak. The Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND – Friends of Earth Germany) is already talking of a “forest dieback 2.0” after the major forest decline in the 1980s.
“Sometimes, it’s best to do nothing”
Listlewald, a small forest which covers just 6.35 hectares near Buchloe in the Ostallgäu, shows that you are able to do something about this forest dieback as well as what a sustainable forest could look like. In 1998, the Kaiser’sche Armen- und Krankenstiftung ( Kaiser’sche Poor and Sick Foundation) acquired the forest from its former owner, Kreszentia Listle, who had replanted it as a mixed forest with spruce, oak, ash, alder, birch, and maple after storm damage in 1990. The forest now contains 14 different tree species and countless bushes, grasses and plants that are important for the overall ecology, biodiversity, and climate resistance of the forest.
The Listlewald is not a neatly swept forest, neither is it one where everything grows completely wild, even if it might seem so. “Sometimes, it’s best to do nothing,” emphasizes area manager Stephan Fessler from the Kaufbeuren Department of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry, which manages the forest on behalf of the foundation. And it demonstrates rather admirably “that you can also manage very well if you work together with nature.” However, this inaction is not always easy as people sometimes complain about the “mess in the forest.”
Before the forest looked the way it looks today, it was long gone. 35 years ago, it looked like most forests. Barren and mostly dry needles on the ground between the trees. Now, everything is green and flowers are blooming. “Some will probably think, what’s this mess here? All kinds of weeds, the wood is all over the place, yet that’s exactly what we want nowadays,” says Fessler. “In the past, people tidied up a lot in the woods. Every stick was cleared, even the needles, which used to be used as bedding in the cattle shed because there was no straw.” Nowadays, this is no longer necessary and therefore we no longer need to tidy up like that. “You also have to take care of it, because the forest is also about preserving as many species as possible and creating habitats for as many species as possible. And that’s exactly what we are doing here.”
Weeds as “companion vegetation”
And that’s why weeds do not grow in an uncontrolled way in the Listlewald. They offer protection to the newly planted young trees in a “beetle hole” created after a bark beetle infestation. “We had to plant species of trees that were suitable for the location in the shortest possible time and now, the first trees are growing up through the surrounding vegetation – stinging nettles and grass,” Fessler says. There are no more spruces at this location but alder trees and fir trees instead, which are protected by grids to avoid falling victim to the deer’s appetite. “The fir is a shade-loving tree species and normally, it does tolerate open spaces because it has problems with frost hazards. Nevertheless, we wanted to introduce another tree species here which, in addition to the alder, also influences the economical concept and at the same time suits this location. The surrounding vegetation here takes over the task of the spruce and actually enables the fir to survive that way.”
The reed, which can be found everywhere along the paths in the Listlewald, is not part of the surrounding vegetation, but, like the boneset plant, it also contributes to the diversity of species. You don’t have to constantly maintain ditches, forest director Stephan Kleiner makes clear. “Thanks to the new, unspoiled management, a new habitat, which had once been ruined by the former management, was created in the Listlewald,” Kleiner is pleased to report. “The boneset needs a humid habitat and provides food for a particular butterfly: the Jersey tiger. It needs the boneset to lay its eggs and ensure the next generation of butterflies.”
Adapt to the location
Another ‘cornerstone of biodiversity and ecological diversity’ in the Listlwald are the dead wood of trees, which provide a home for beetles, insects, butterflies as well as bird species such as the woodpecker, the tawny owl, and the streaked bowerbird. “They are home to species on which other species are dependent on,” says Kleiner. “The woodpecker builds its hollow into this dead wood and then there are plenty of new tenants who don’t pay rent. The tawny owl moves in or the streaked bowerbird. The woodpecker does very important preliminary work for its successors. You just have to put up with it and you accept that you can’t always clean everything up.”
The former forestry concept of pure spruce interspersed with a bit of alder is outdated, Fessler explains. Pure spruce forests are far too susceptible to drought, storms, bark beetles and snow damage. But “simply planting new tree species wildly and seeing what happens” is not the solution either. You have to adapt the forests to the climate and make them climate-resistant, however: “You have to think more about the location and look for suitable tree species and try not to make the location suitable for the spruce for every circumstance. But I think we are on the right track here,” says Fessler.
The Listlewald is therefore also building on more tree species that nature has supplied free of charge. “This way, you suddenly get seven tree species from one tree species in a very small circle and you have biodiversity. That is the future,” Fessler emphasizes. “This is the only way that this forest can be preserved in the future. If it was made up of spruce for 100%, we would have little chance of maintaining the forest as a forest location when you factor in climate change.”