Creating resilient forests for the future

1st Stakeholder Workshop in German SUPERB demo 

by Catharina Schmidt

Did you know that many forests in Germany’s demo area North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have been severely affected by drought and bark beetle outbreaks since 2018? By now, approximately 140.000 ha of Norway spruce forests have been damaged due to spruce bark beetle attacks, and 10.000 ha of pure beech stands are severely affected by drought. To ensure that our forests provide the ecosystem services we need, those areas need to be restored. Therefore, the state of NRW already developed a silviculture and reforestation concept in cooperation with several stakeholders. The concepts are now being tested – amongst others – in SUPERB’s demo sites. These include a total of at least 35 ha in 7 demo sites with at least 5 ha of restoration area per site which will be established across NRW. One “best-practice forest stand” will have the average size of 1 ha.

On September 6th, 2022, the first SUPERB stakeholder engagement workshop for the German demo area in NRW took place in Arnsberg, facilitated by the State Forest Enterprise Wald und Holz NRW. In total 15 representatives from forest owner associations, hunting associations, tree nurseries, nature conservation NGOs, pulp and timber industry, the NRW Ministry for Agriculture and Consumer Protection, State Forest Enterprise, municipal forests and the educational sector attended the workshop. It was our aim to inform the stakeholders about our demo’s restoration activities but also to listen to their demands to the forest and their opinions on our reforestation plans.

We discussed the strong interest of diverse stakeholders in various ecosystem services, and the related high demands on our future forests. These services involve amongst others timber production, habitat provision, recreation, hunting and CO2-storage. To guarantee the provision of a variety of ecosystem services, we require a multifunctional approach to forestry. Furthermore, our forests need to become more resilient under climate change to be able to provide these services. That is why the SUPERB NRW demo site has decided to take an active restoration approach.

The participants of our workshop had different opinions on how we can achieve successful reforestation both considering the type of regeneration we choose and the choice of tree species. One of our take-home messages was that the solution lies probably somewhere in between different approaches, and we should not focus on one solution only. This implies not solely relying on our native species to adapt naturally to the rapid climate change, nor believing that introduced tree species are the answer to all our problems. A joint conclusion was that we need a mixture of site-adapted tree species – including native and introduced species –, grown out of natural and artificial regeneration. However, it was also emphasized that risk diversification is important, but to keep the marketability of wood products, it should still be possible to get enough timber of one tree species from the forest stands.

One criticism the demo site was facing was that protection by fences and growth shelters against browsing ungulates is used for all forest stands in the demo. However, the mechanical protection of forest regeneration is very costly, and therefore it cannot be adapted in practice. Therefore, hunting should play a more crucial role in the reforestation. The reasoning why there will still be fencing in the demo area is so that the monitoring can be conducted equally on all sites excluding the impact of ungulates, since different demo sites have different deer densities and species. To acknowledge the impact of deer to forest regeneration, the demo sites also establish control plots for natural regeneration with and without deer exclosures.

NRW demo site (photo: Marcus Lindner)

The workshop ended with an excursion to the SUPERB demo sites in the State Forest of Arnsberg where the stakeholders were able meet the local forester. During the excursion, the stakeholders were informed which forests stands will be established on which sites. Furthermore, we discussed the challenges of reforestation due to sika deer. Despite intense hunting of sika deer, it is not possible to establish tree species such as oak or silver fir, which are susceptible to browsing – if not protected by either fencing or growth shelters. One of the conclusions of the discussion was that game control remains a problem for forest restoration.

Featured image: Excursion to NRW demo site (photo: Marcus Lindner)