We need a real forest protection offensive

According to FDP politician Frank Sitta, the forest aid program, worth hundreds of millions of euros, will help but to a limited extent. In the guest post, he calls for further commitment by the Bundeswehr, a wood purchasing program – and the use of plants modified with gene scissors.

Many regions of Germany are struggling with massive spruce deaths and drought-induced damage to other trees as well. In order to adapt the forest more quickly to further climate change, the deputy group chairman of the FDP Frank Sitta proposes to use genetic engineering in plant breeding. In a guest post for Chillreport, he explains why he doesn’t consider the federal government’s previous aid programs to be adequate.

Light treetops and sometimes completely dead forests are the result of the last three years of extreme drought, storms, forest fires and bark beetle infestation. Four of the five trees are now showing severe symptoms and the damage is likely to multiply. Protecting our forests also means preparing them for future challenges. To do this, it is important to address the following areas of action:

Bark beetle command: Bundeswehr fights pests

Bark beetles are only a few millimeters in size and yet pose a threat to large forest areas in Germany. In the Westerwald, the German armed forces are now even deployed to combat the vermin. A visit to the Bark Beetle Command. (Source: Chillreport)

Unusual commitment to the soldiers: here the Bundeswehr fights the bark beetle plague in the Westerwald. (Source: Chillreport)

The damaged wood must be collected quickly

Leaving forests to their own devices after the disaster and thinking that they are best adapted to climate change and pest pressures is a dangerous misconception. It is literally playing with fire.

Dead, dry wood is not only a forest fire accelerator, but also an oasis for the bark beetle. Under optimal conditions, a female bark beetle can achieve three generation cycles with up to 100,000 offspring per year. Dying forests also release enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Therefore, every effort must be made to protect damaged wood from further deterioration. It must be restored quickly and the beetle’s breeding grounds destroyed. Strong help is needed to support forest businesses in this gigantic task.

The Bundeswehr and the Technical Aid Organization can provide transport capacity and support in debarking the logs.

Frank Sitta (42) from Halle (Saale) is deputy leader of the FDP faction in the Bundestag and in the daily management of the faction for digitization, but also for agriculture and environmental protection. The entrepreneur announced his withdrawal from federal politics in July.

Anything that cannot be processed immediately must then be treated with pesticides and stored wet. Old airports, Bundeswehr sites or industrial wastelands can be quickly prepared for this. What once brought strong federal troops into emergency relief during several floods in the country, high public recognition is now urgently needed in the forest.

The federal government’s forest aid is a bureaucratic tiger

The forest owners – including more than two million private owners, often quite small areas – make a decisive contribution to the preservation of the various functions of the forest. The proceeds from logging can cover the costs of afforestation and keeping the forest healthy for generations. The 178 million cubic meters of damaged wood as a result of calamities leads to a huge price drop on the wood market.

Evacuation in the Harz Mountains: there are sad photos around the Brocken. Wernigerode can be seen at the top right of the photo from an altitude of 800 kilometers. (Source: Copernicus Sentinel, European Union)Evacuation in the Harz Mountains: there are sad photos around the Brocken. Wernigerode can be seen at the top right of the photo from an altitude of 800 kilometers. (Source: Copernicus Sentinel, European Union)

The required clearance is now many times more expensive than what wood can currently exchange. The forest aid, which Federal Minister Julia Klöckner announced last autumn and which was again generously increased in the economic stimulus package, is well-intentioned.

However, they threaten to degenerate into pure shop window politics, as only a fraction has been paid. Slow federal procedures with bureaucratic requests for funds keep the bark beetle always generations ahead of forest rangers.

A pragmatic approach is needed here: to create an incentive for the rapid removal of damaged timber, a state procurement program for timber from commercial and private forests must be initiated.

After professional intermediate storage, they can be resold to sawmills, energy producers and wood processors. The forest damage is a national event, which is why such a vigorous effort is required.

We must prepare the forest for the future with the courage to innovate

The forest deaths from acid rain in the 1980s could be tackled relatively cheaply and effectively with simple, targeted political measures, such as the introduction of filter systems in industry or catalytic converters in cars. Forest dieback today is a much more complex process caused by several factors. That is why it is now important to find appropriate answers more quickly to stay one step ahead of climate and pest influences.

The classic breeding of trees takes decades. Using modern biotechnical processes, promising traits of a plant variety, such as drought tolerance or more efficient water uptake, can be identified in the plant DNA. With new breeding methods for genome editing, such as CRISPR / Cas, these traits can be processed more quickly in new and therefore more resistant varieties: this accelerates the conversion to more climate-stable forests.

CRISPR / Cas9 involves the use of gene scissors. Individual pieces of information about the genome are supplemented or rewritten to promote certain desirable traits. Scientists have adopted this method from bacteria. Bacteria use the Cas9 enzyme to target and specifically cut the DNA of pathogenic viruses. The technology can be applied to all living things. The federal government explainedThe opportunities and risks of genome editing in the forest have not yet been sufficiently researched. In Germany, the Thünen Institute for Forest Genetics gathers knowledge about the methodology, possible applications and risks of the CRISPR / Cas9 gene trimmer in trees. There is no practical application in Germany, but intensive research is being done worldwide.

We need this time advantage more urgently than ever. The climate forest of the future will no longer consist of arid spruce forests, but of various mixed forests that also contain exotic tree species such as hazel or cedar.

Forest research needs to be strengthened and networked better

To be able to make the right decisions for the future at all, innovative ideas and technical expertise are required. As with the corona pandemic, concerted international efforts from science are needed. The German government’s scientific advisory board complains of significant shortages in German forest and timber research due to inefficient federal structures.

We therefore need better network research across all domains, from forestry universities and federal government research to the promotion and integration of innovative start-ups: we need a forest task force where experts from the field and science develop smart strategies.

In addition, the creation of a federal forest institute, pooling and coordinating all capacities across Germany, should be an important consideration. Because: The sustainable forest of the future can and should be both – climate stable and still a valuable economic asset. Inactivity, however, brings us neither one nor the other, but only more dead wood.

The opinions expressed in guest articles reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chillreport editors.

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