Passionate discussions are not isolated between foresters and conservationists. Inside the various sectors of the two parties the positions and philosophies collide with one another. In the middle of the conflict sits the Bavarian Forest Administration which, for the last 30 years, has been representing an integrated concept of a multifunctional, sustainable and a near to natural management of forests on practically all of its lands. Is this concept up to date and can it address the concerns of forest nature conservation and meet its present demands? Or, on the other hand, is it a weak compromise without clear directions?

Such questions exist in topics that move our society. They are the result of technological and societal changes such as the Internet, globalization and democratization. Everything is in motion, everyone contributes his or her opinion and everything happens at the same time. This usually takes place in different and sometimes conflicting directions. Debates with regard to nature conservation in forests is not evidence for deficits, but is instead a sign of interest. We will use this interest to better demonstrate the concept of integrated forest management.

What are we actually talking about?

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, Rio 1992) concerns itself with the preservation and sustainable usage of biological diversity and is divided into three categories

  • the diversity of habitats
  • the diversity of species and
  • genetic diversity.

Based on ethical grounds the diversity of species stands out since we have a particular responsibility to prevent the extinction of native plants and animals. The everlasting loss of a species would weigh heavier than that of a biotope or a specific genetic strain.

What is the meaning of nature conservation in Bavarian forests?

Our forests have many functions for humans and nature:

  • Production of wood, a renewable resource
  • Protection from natural hazards
  • Provision of heath benefits for humans and a place for relaxation
  • Habitats for plants and animals

In a finite world not everyone can have everything everywhere and in the largest of dimensions. Compromises are necessary in order to resolve target and distributional conflicts. A single issue cannot singlehandedly take all the attention and not be suppressed by another. Especially in the forest it is possible to connect the one with the other. One should not get bogged down on symbols. Rather, negotiations should be pragmatic, goal oriented and soberly measure the results.

The preservation of biological diversity in the forests is an important tenet of the Bavarian Forest Administration and is the basis for successful and sustainable forestry. Multifunctional and sustainable forest management integrates all interests and sets the limit for maximal usage. The mandatory framework lays out the forest laws for Bavaria and the Bavarian strategy for biodiversity.

Where are we today and what will the future bring us?

The goals, measures and results of forestry in Bavaria present themselves well. Here are a few examples:

  • The conversion of tree species composition in Bavaria’s forests presents the largest area wide project ever in Germany to adapt forests to climate change. More than 70,000 hectares of unstable and vulnerable coniferous stands have been converted to stable, mixed deciduous forest stands in private, corporate and public forests. These mixed forests are a significant improvement for species protection.
  • Natura 2000 in Bavaria pertains to habitats and species on 450,000 hectares of forest area. Results of surveys from the FFH Directive shows that on the majority of the areas a high level of quality for these protected natural resources exist. A positive trend for species on the IUCN Red List of endangered species can be seen in the forest. Species include the black stork, beaver and the European wildcat. There still exists a need for action on oak or pine habitats that are sometimes cultivated against nature due to engrained and established management practices!
  • The funding of "special achievements for the common good" is a successful instrument that has been bringing conservation projects forward in public forests for the past ten years (e.g. the renaturation of raised bogs). The funding for private and corporate forests contains guidelines from the subsidy programs like the Forestry Conservation Contract Program.
  • Results from the Third National Forest Inventory show that forested areas in Bavaria have continued to increase. The proportion of deciduous trees is about 36 percent, almost two-thirds more than the first large scale inventory in 1971. In young stands this proportion is even as high as 54 percent. The average age of the forests in Bavaria is 83 years and has risen by four years since the last inventory and is distinctly higher than the national average. The proportion of dead wood (i.e. coarse woody debris) is also higher than the national average and is approximately 22 m3 per hectare; in public forests it’s even higher at 35 m3. Additionally, the timber stocks clearly lie above the national average with 396 m3 per hectare.

Bavaria’s forests are a result of centuries of labor from forest owners and forest stewards that helped to form the cultivated landscape that characterizes our homeland. In comparison to global and historical standards, the forests of today have an exceptional condition. This is, however, no reason to sit back and take things easy. We are confronted with challenges such as climate change, danger from forest pests as well as an increase in the demand for wood as an energy and natural resource. More practices are necessary that serve to preserve the biological diversity in the forests and are built upon successes thus far. A variety of practices already incorporate the program for the implementation of the Bavarian Biodiversity Strategy.

What does the way forward look like?

The "Bavarian way" to preserve and support biodiversity can be summarized in the following core points:

  • Sustainable usage and protection on the entire area;
  • Targeted supplementary measures to promote biodiversity;
  • No across-the-board quotas for taking land out of production;
  • Precedence for volunteerism and cooperation with forest owners.

It is of utmost importance that forest owners are allowed enough room to make their own decisions. The diversity of the management practices from 700,000 independent and self-reliant forest owners leads to an enormous variety in living conditions for plants and animals.

What does that really mean?

With out much effort, a variety of integrated measures can produce very valuable contributions for the preservation of biological diversity. For example:

  • Establishment and care of near to natural mixed forests;
  • Widespread usage of site appropriate native tree species;
  • Consideration (e.g. during of breeding and rearing);
  • Protection and care of valuable forest biotopes;
  • Implementation and integration of Natura 2000 measures;
  • Utilization and support of rare tree species;
  • Establishment and care of near to natural forest edges;
  • Use of small areas for regeneration, avoidance of clear cuts;
  • Targeted enrichment with dead wood (coarse wood debris) and biotope trees;
  • "Integrated plant protection";
  • Nutrient sustainability with the procurement of fuelwood;
  • Careful treatment of forest soils.

Many of these measures have already been used widely by foresters and active forest owners for a long time and are supported through subsidy programs. In view of the general change in structure of the forest owners, the Bavarian Forest Administration has to intensify its distribution of information.

What is going to be important tomorrow?

No one can say with absolute assuredness what is correct. The philosophy that gains the most supporters is predominantly a matter of trust. Not all facts and arguments are decisive and there is a high dependency on gut instincts: Whose arguments can be trusted the most, who do you believe is capable of coming up with the best assessment and lastly, who can actually implement them?

Things become difficult since the framework is constantly changing; the effects from humans such as urbanization or climate change are quite considerable. Humans have always caused permanent effects but have also looked for answers to new challenges: The rising needs of a growing populace until the beginning of the modern age has lead to an extreme increase in the demand for wood and other forest products. Plundering, degradation and suffering were the result, however, innovations such as the science of sustainability also came about. The rising use of coal and other fossil fuels reduced the demand for wood as well as its price. Wood, forests and forestry lost importance. However, some results were the regeneration of the soils and forest stands plus innovations such as the development of the science of forest functions and new wood products. Increasing CO2 concentrations from the combustion of fossil fuels have resulted in wide scale climate change. Massive damage from extreme weather and pests are the result, but innovations such as the switch to renewable resources and the systematical conversion of tree species composition in forest stands. The rising demand for wood and an increase in the proportion of deciduous trees will lead to new challenges and, quite surely, to new innovations.

The philosophy of the "sustainable usage and protection on the entire forest area" can never be completed and will never be static in nature. Instead, the philosophy needs to constantly be redeveloped and is a perpetual learning process. Regular surveys to assess the condition of the forests and its species are indispensable. An ethical obligation to continually research correlations in the forests and possible impacts is just as important.

Good answers to the mental and societal changes are crucial in order to deliver a sustainable concept. The forest sector can be proud of the successes from the past 300 years. The condition of the forests is much better today than in the past. This is hardly noticeable to the average passer by due to the typically slow pace at which changes in the forest take place. This is why we should, on a regular basis, constantly check and improve our philosophy internally. Next, this philosophy should be externally distributed in an understandable, honest, transparent and confident manner. Room should be left for critical questions, other ideas and constructive suggestions. An integrative, applied, near to natural multifunctional forestry offers the best equal opportunities for highly valued ecological, economical and social results. This wide and flexible concept can incorporate very different local conditions, expert knowledge or practicable ideas.