The government’s nature conservation plans: making do instead of spilling the beans?

Everyone is talking about the forest. How good it is for the climate and the soul. It has to be saved – everywhere. Now also in Germany.

Between chainsaw and nature romanticism: Germans have an ambivalent relationship with the forest Photo: unsplash/Jakob Rugner

To compensate for the loss of forests, Iceland has been planting 1 million trees a year for a long time, China recently planted 6 billion trees, in India 66 million trees were planted in 12 hours, Australia wants to plant 1 billion, Ethiopia 4 billion (with 354 million seedlings in 12 hours, the country has already set a "world record in tree planting" according to Spiegel), and in the Philippines every student must plant 10 trees in the future before matriculating.

All well and good, but planting is not the end of the story. The trees also need to be watered, protected from pests and herbivores, and then protected from timber thieves.

In addition to the planting action spectacles initiated by the state or capital, there are many small forest rescue NGOs, quasi from below – such as "Plant for the Planet (How to plant trees for a better world)". On utopia.de, 12 other "organizations that plant trees for the climate" are recommended.

And then, of course, there are left-wing forest occupations, such as in Hambach Forest, which want to save trees from being felled by lignite companies or wind farm operators. A group of girls spent their ecological year in northern India, where they chained themselves to the trees of indigenous forest dwellers to protect them from the "timber mafia".

Hysteria is the beginning of all science

All this is countered by the ongoing destruction of forests through deforestation, especially in Southeast Asia and Latin America. In Brazil, this "overexploitation of nature" (Spiegel) reached its highest level in 2018: 7,900 square kilometers of forest had to give way to agriculture there. The environment minister spoke of "illegal deforestation" and blamed "increased organized crime".

Trees have a super CO2 balance

Global warming can only be mitigated through reforestation, according to many scientists. How? Trees supply themselves with carbon dioxide by allowing air to enter through tiny crevices in their leaves. Through the respiratory pores, they simultaneously "sweat out" water, which evaporates, rises, and forms clouds, which then rain down. However, this only happens in larger forest areas. The opposite happens in our cities, which resemble huge bare mountains, and elsewhere sealed surfaces: they store the sun’s heat and radiate it. Thus, there is only a slight cooling at night. Added to this are the car, heating and industrial exhaust gases.

For this reason, from 1980 onwards, there was talk in Central Europe of "forest dieback", which sounded slightly hysterical, especially among forest-loving Germans. But hysteria is the beginning of all science, and soon desulfurization plants, laws and forestry efforts brought about an all-clear. "Healthy" was not yet the commercial forest, however, as Eifel forester Peter Wohlleben tirelessly criticizes with his best-selling books about trees.

In the meantime, heat, drought, insects and pollutants are causing a "forest crisis," as BUND and the industrial union Bauen, Umwelt, Agrar (IG BAU) call it. Around 300 million trees already need to be replanted. Although the "forest conversion" – away from "coniferous monocultures" and back to mixed forests – began several decades ago, experts believe it has not been comprehensive enough.

The minister wants to make a splash instead of a spill

This is also due to economic interests. Conifers have no place in Germany (except in the Alps); this is a beech country, but beech trees may not actually be felled until they are 250 years old (they can live to be 500 years old), while spruce and pine trees supply paper, boards and chipboard after only 60 to 80 years.

CDU Minister of Agriculture Julia Klockner has now been stirred, given her ministerial staff a jolt and presented a four-point plan to save the German forest: 1. "clean it up," 2. "help it pragmatically," 3. "reforest it with suitable trees," 4. "don’t spill the beans, make do". She wants to raise 500 million euros for this purpose and accommodate the forestry companies with income tax. Klockner, who is not exactly famous for her ecological thinking, may have been driven by Peter Wohlleben, BUND and IG BAU, or rather by the complaints of the mostly aristocratic forest owners.

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