Will gale-force winds change the face of Czech forests?

Photo: CTK

Rolling hills and coniferous forests are what you would call typical Czech landscape, but with the climatic changes affecting central Europe that may be about to change. In the wake of devastating gale-force winds, environmental experts are advising forest owners to think about mixed forests instead.

Photo: CTK
The gale force winds that swept the Czech Republic in recent weeks devastated 12 million cubic meters of woodland - that's two thirds of the country's annual lumber production. Huge areas of forestland will gradually need to be replanted and environmental experts are advising forest owners to think twice about what kind of trees they are going to re-plant. Environmentalist Vilem Rihacek says that a healthy forest needs to balance three criteria.

"Basically there are three factors you need to watch: biodiversity, the richness of the species, the stability of the ecosystem and the third one is production of resources. All these factors are much better fulfilled in mixed forests."

Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursik,  photo: CTK
At present 75 percent of Czech forests are coniferous - and every second tree is a spruce - for which there is a simple reason. Conifers - in particular spruce trees grow fast and provide short term profit. However, that has its disadvantages. Coniferous forests are vulnerable to bark-beetle infestation and because conifers have a shallow root system as compared to deciduous trees they are generally less resistant to gales.

After gale force winds devastated large areas of the Tatra Mountains in neighbouring Slovakia in 2004, Bratislava introduced strict new norms which say that only up to 40 percent of trees in their forests can be conifers. Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursik of the Green Party is advocating a similar government policy in the Czech Republic. He says state owned forests should set an example - gradually replanting more deciduous trees in order to improve the balance in nature.

In private owned forests it is more difficult to combat short-term profit policy, but Vilem Rihacek says that even now private owners are breaking the law - because there are already norms in place regarding the minimum percentage of deciduous trees in a forest.

"Private owners of forests are not adequately controlled. They should be under greater scrutiny because even now there are norms saying how many deciduous trees there should be in a forest -norms stating the exact percentage. And in reality those norms are not always adhered to."

Even if the government were to take action now - restoring the natural balance of forests is a long term process. Environmentalists say it will take three of four generations to be completed.