Europe's Damaged Forests

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 25, 2000 (ENS) - Three December storms caused the worst damage in a decade in many European forests to stands of trees, wildlife habitat, buildings, utilities and roads. Foresters are now risking life and limb to assess the damage, start cleanup cutting, and plan for reforestation.

On December 26 and 28 the storms swept through France, Germany and Switzerland, and an earlier storm on December 11 centered on Denmark and Sweden.

Now that assessments are underway, foresters report that the storms felled 165 million cubic meters of timber - the equivalent of six months harvest in three days.

France is the most affected country, with the worst damage in the east - Lorraine, Champagne Ardennes, Alsace, Limousin and Aquitaine. Of the total, about one third of the damage is in public forests and the rest in private forests.

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Live camera on the Black Forest captures an image of the Feldberg region January 25, 2000 (Photo courtesy Topin)
In Germany, the Black Forest in Baden Wurttemberg is the worst affected area.

In Switzerland, damage is estimated at twice the annual harvest. The cantons of Bern and Fribourg are the worst hit.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) has established a new Internet clearinghouse to facilitate the transfer of information between countries on the forest catastrophes and their possible impacts and abatement. Visit: http://www.unece.org/trade/timber/

Landowners and foresters attempting to deal with the damage are working in hazardous conditions. "Forest operations in wind damaged forests are highly dangerous even for well-equipped and trained professionals," said Thomas Grünenfelder of the Swiss Forest Agency, leader of the United Nations team of specialists on acute forest damage.

Two lives have already been lost in Switzerland during the forest cleanup following the December storms, Grünenfelder said. He heads a team made up of experts from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, the International Labor Organization and the ECE.

Following severe 1990 storms, 31 forest workers were killed in Switzerland while performing sanitation cuttings and over 50 in Germany. "Many of these were forest owners performing dangerous logging without the necessary technical and safety skills and equipment," Grünenfelder said.

Current forest harvest plans will be modified to account for the newly fallen timber. New plans are being made for re-establishment of forests and wildlife habitat through natural regeneration and planting.

European governments, including France, Germany and Switzerland where substantial forest damage occurred, are preparing plans to assist with disaster relief.

Kit Prins, chief of the UN-ECE Timber Section said, "While the loss appears devastating in the short term, Europe’s surplus of growth over harvest will continue. The fallen timber is only 0.6 percent of wood in Europe’s forests. However for localities affected it can have significant consequences."

Storm damage is not the only problem in European forests. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a Swiss based conservation organization issued a report this week showing that many European countries are neglecting their forests.

Switzerland takes the best care of its forests, while out of the 19 countries ranked, Denmark was found to neglect its forests the most.

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Swiss forest (Photo courtesy Department of Forest Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
"European countries are neglecting their forests," said Per Rosenberg, head of WWF's European Forest Programme. "Even the highest scoring country, Switzerland, only achieves 62 out of 100. The average score is 51. This is far too low. All countries have serious improvements to make in many areas of forest care."

WWF European Forest Scorecards are based on international and regional agreements signed by European nations. They are made up of 99 separate elements covering a wide range of issues including timber and other production, environmental care and quality, social and cultural aspects of forest care, protected areas and pollution.

There is a lack of semi-natural or undisturbed forest, said WWF, and an insufficient amount of protected forest. Too much pesticides and herbicides are being used on forests and there is a failure to leave dead wood in the forest, as a vital habitat for many animals and plants.

Top-ranked Switzerland scored 62 out of a possible 100 points, and Finland 61. Sweden, Austria and Slovakia are joint third. Wealth and supposed environmental awareness is no guarantee of good forest care: Germany and France have similar scores to those achieved by eastern neighbours Poland, and Mediterranean countries like Spain and Turkey.

The current WWF European Forest Scorecard is available online at: http://www.panda.org/resources/inthefield/europe/forests/scorecards/index_new.htm