In large parts of the Harz Mountains, only the trunks of dead spruce trees are left – drought, pests and storms have struck in recent years. “A large part of the spruce trees in the Harz have already died. There is not much left. Not much can disappear,” said Ulrike Talkner, who heads the environmental control department at the Northwest German Forestry Research Institute (NW-FVA), the German press Agency. The consequences of climate change are particularly evident in the Harz Mountains, also because nature is left to its own devices in the national park there. The green has to fight back first.

Data published by the Federal Statistical Office on Wednesday shows how badly insects affect conifers in particular. Last year, insect damage was the cause of logging caused by forest damage in 60 percent of the cases, the Federal Statistical Office announced on Tuesday. In the previous year, the statisticians had reported the record value of 81 percent. Since 2016, pest infestation has been the main cause of damaged timber felling.

Wind and storm damage play a major role

From Talkner’s point of view, the development of the coming years is not foreseeable. “In many regions, however, there is still spruce and the bark beetle is also busy there again,” said the expert, who is involved in forest condition reports for several federal states. What happens next depends extremely on the weather. If several wet and cool years followed, the situation could relax again. However, she does not assume a complete all-clear, because climate change is fundamentally there. And not only the bark beetle damages the trees, but also other insects and fungi.

And that’s not all: Last year, wind and storm damage also played a major role with a good quarter – their proportion can vary greatly from year to year. Since 2020, the statisticians have also recorded drought as a cause. Since then, this share has increased from 5.2 to 8.1 percent. In total, 44.7 million cubic meters of damaged wood were felled nationwide last year. Overall, the amount of logging was 78.7 million cubic meters.

The trees suffer from drought stress

Climate change has made droughts more frequent and severe. The periods without precipitation are getting longer. “Climate change and in particular its influence on the drought in recent years has an increasing share of this damage and also of the interaction of the various damaging factors,” said forest expert Christopher Reyer from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research of the German Press Agency. Another reason for the high damage is that forests in Germany and Europe are natural in very few cases – this means that they can often buffer worse damage.

According to Talkner, the situation of the forests in Saxony-Anhalt is particularly precarious because the soil water reservoirs are no longer replenished over the winter. This is also the case this year after the supposedly rainy past few months. The trees suffer from so-called drought stress and are more susceptible to pests.

Forest expert Reyer calls for consequences to be drawn from the damage in recent years and for forests to be made more resilient. You have to adjust the management goals and leave more room for natural processes and “take into account the requirements of a changing world,” said the expert.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, forest conversion has already begun in a number of places. With the construction of mixed forests, an attempt is made to make the forest more resistant. More susceptible monocultures, on the other hand, should be avoided.

The spokesman for the working group of German forest owners’ associations, Jürgen Gaulke, said: “The numbers are alarming, but not surprising”. With around 600,000 hectares of damaged forest area in Germany, the damage amounts to around 20 billion euros. It is about destroyed wood as well as the lost CO2 storage and economic factors such as tourism. Reforestation is a significant financial burden, especially for owners of small areas. According to Gaulke, 5,000 and 10,000 euros are due per hectare. A forest does not give that economically.