Forestry--but Naturally

What Berliner could walk past the Treehugger posters appearing throughout the city without a second glance? The clever design leaves the passer-by with the imprint of the source of more information, waldwirtschaft-aber naturlich! (Forestry – but naturally!). But is it a mind-washing campaign? The evil hand of industry shaking government hands behind closed doors to win the right to shave the land bald and replace natural growth with fertilized transplants uglier than hair-plugs? Will hikers be confronted by the muddy scars of large equipment using the forest floor as factory? For those who don’t read German, the interesting facts behind the campaign are noted here. With the rising price of heating fuels, the spectre of this campaign could cast a shadow on doors near you soon.
Worldwide, 55% of trees cut are destined to be burned for energy; in Germany, only 7%. The European forest inventory completed in 2004 shows that the wooded areas around Berlin are currently used at a rate wide under the sustainable harvesting rate. This campaign is reaching out to every citizen to increase the availability of a renewable and carbon-neutral source of energy. Why every citizen? For the quarter of the wooded land which is managed by the Forest Management authorities, it is easy and economical to increase the harvesting, and awfully nice to let the hikers and hunters know what is going on. But fully 75% of the wooded areas are privately owned, often in small patches of 3 hectares (7.5 acres) or less in the hands of citizens who live far away or are suspicious of the market offers to harvest their land (an honest fear of the potential red tape: in Germany valued old-growth trees are marked on planning maps in city hall, and may not be messed with without all the appropriate signatures. The rumors circulate faster than leaves after every major windstorm about neighbors who reported trees damaged by the wind so they could conveniently disappear from the location of the long-planned kitchen extension.)

With this campaign, the forest officials are offering an everyone-wins package deal to private citizens who own forested land. They will receive an annual payment and the officials will take care of land taxes, utility fees and insurance in return for the right to ecologically harvest the land. The wood produced will feed a newly built pelletizing factory in the Brandenburg province which encircles the capitol city.

So is it an industry plot to benefit from cheap trees? Wood pellets make it possible to heat even large buildings with the same ease and efficiency as fuel oil or coal, and avoid all of the undesirable properties of the latter, such as flammability dangers of liquid fuels and the dirtiness of coal. The pellets are golden-colored, fresh smelling and easily transportable both for delivery trucks and automatic feeds into larger furnaces. (For a succinct review of the conversion of the city offices in a Finnish town committed to put all municipal buildings on locally available fuel sources, click here). Well, we hope wise minds will use any higher-level benefits of the harvested wood before reducing it to furnace-food, but sometimes a little government support is necessary to give new eco-businesses a boost.

Then is it a mind-washing campaign? Well, in spite of the current uncertainty about who will lead Germany, it is still fundamentally a social market democracy. Experience leads one to believe the forest authorities, who will be working under published rules, can be trusted in their claims that the work will proceed sustainably, relying on natural reseeding and without chemical agents. We hope we run across one of the give-away t-shirts in the events of the next week. And we hope that when the urge to reduce dependency on oil hits a politician's head near you, the model of sustainable, ecological, local harvesting will be followed.

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