Environmental group takes case of Austrian and German logging to EU

Šumava, photo: CzechTourism

The Czech branch of the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth has filed a formal complaint with the European Union over logging practices just outside the Czech border in the southern Šumava region. They say that logging efforts both in Germany and Austria are threatening forests within the Czech Republic’s famous national park.

Šumava,  photo: CzechTourism
The Šumava region in southern Bohemia is widely viewed as being one of the most beautiful and unspoilt regions in the entire country. Many of the forests there are protected and form part of the Šumava National park, which stretches right down to the borders with neighbouring Austria and Germany. However, on the other side of these borders, most of the Šumava forests are not protected. In fact, the Czech branch of Friends of the Earth believes that they are being needlessly cut down and that this is also threatening protected forests on the Czech side of the border.

Vojtech Kotecký is a spokesperson for the organization. I asked him to explain just why this was happening and whether greed was playing a role:

A tree attacked by bark-beetles,  photo: Rafal Konieczny,  Creative Commons 3.0
“I don’t think that the motivation for German and Austrian landowners is logging and extraction of timber from the forest. The primary reason for creating these huge areas of clear-cut land is bark-beetles that damage the forest. Unfortunately, this practice in this situation leads to more damage than what the bark-beetles themselves cause.”

The Czech Republic abandoned clear-cutting forests as a method for dealing with bark-beetles because it was deemed as essentially a scorched earth policy. Also, EU legislation also does not permit this kind of procedure within national parks. But the land on the Austrian and German side is not protected and thus clear-cutting was chosen as a way to deal with the devastating effects of a bark-beetle infestation. I asked Vojtech Kotecký what he believed the dangers are for forests on the Czech side of the border:

“Clear-cutting in Austrian and German forests just next to the border of the Czech Šumava national park will open up the forest to wind and subsequently will lead to major wind-breaks in the forest within the Czech national park that will damage the unique nature of this nature reserve.”

And what has been the response of the Austrian and German sides?

“The relevant landowners and the key regional Austrian politicians said that our fears were completely misplaced and that measures are being taken against such a scenario. Unfortunately, what we predicted happened. There is now a major clear-cut on the Austrian and German sides of the border, and wind is now damaging the Czech nature reserves within the national park and we are losing an important natural habitat.”

Thus, the matter has now been passed on for the EU to consider. Nonetheless, even if the EU rules in the Czech Republic’s favour, many fear that much of the damage has already been done.