WELZOW: Germany’s forests have long been treasured by its people, so the country has reacted with alarm and dismay as a beetle infestation has turned climate-stressed woodlands into brown ecological graveyards.
After two unusually hot summers in a row, vast patches of the forests mythologised by medieval fairytales, Goethe’s writings and Romantic painters have turned into tinder-dry dead zones.
Given the scale of the threat to the one third of German territory covered by trees, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government convened a “national forest summit” on Wednesday.
There Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner pledged 800 million euros (about $880 million) in federal and state funds over four years to restore the 180,000 hectares of forest destroyed by drought and pests as well as storms and fires — the equivalent of 250,000 football pitches.
The chief culprit has been the tiny bark beetle, which has gone on a rampage as trees in water-starved habitats have lost their natural defences.
In vast parts of Germany, like Welzow forest 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Berlin, once healthy trees have become defoliated skeletons, their trunks marked by tell-tale networks of tiny tunnels.
“The insect eats the bark and lays eggs inside,” said forest ranger Arne Barkhausen. “The larvae then start to eat the trunk and block the nutrient pathways of the tree, which dies in about four weeks.”