Sunday, July 15, 2007

Spruce Monocultures in the Czech Republic

Future Tree Trouble
A Compilation of Testimonies on the Negative Impact of Large-scale Monoculture Tree Plantations prepared for the sixth Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change by Friends of the Earth International in cooperation with the World Rainforest Movement and FERN.

The Sumava Mountains Case Study
This case study examines the pitfalls of a forestry which relies on monoculture plantations, and in doing so offers a warning about the ecologically devastating effects that joint implementation and other flexible mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol could have on forests in the Czech Republic and elsewhere unless monoculture plantations are strictly prohibited.

The history of spruce monocultures in the Czech Republic reaches back to the second half of the eighteenth century. Since that time, Czech forests have been devastated by over-exploitation. The replacement of wood (until then the main source of energy, including for heating) by coal allowed for a reduction in wood harvesting, essentially saving Czech lands from complete deforestation. Around the same time, the science of forestry was born, with its goal of assuring an adequate supply of wood in future years.

The first foresters quickly discovered that some species of trees (spruce, fir, pine) have better production features than others and started to selectively replant forested areas - especially with spruce and pine, since the shade-loving fir does not grow well in deforested areas. The foresters thus replaced other species with mostly spruce trees, and with pines in the lower elevations. They later harvested the wood; this clearcutting and planting method was the preferred "forest" management strategy.

Both the monocultures and the clearcuts had disastrous impacts on the health of forest ecosystems in the Czech republic. What remained of natural original forest gradually decreased in area and became confinedmostly to inaccessible areas free of forest roads. The peak of this clearcut-and-monoculture management style was reached in the 1970s.

Spruce Plantations and their Impacts
High mountain spruce forests are the only example of natural spruce forest in the Czech Republic (natural spruce growth at low elevations is very rare). Mountain spruce growth can be found in harsh climatic conditions at elevations higher than 1000 meters above sea level and in cold mountain valleys where the only other species that can survive are mountain-ash, birch, sycamore and maple.

Spruce monocultures have replaced not only natural mountain spruce forests but also fir-beech forests of middle elevations and oak forests of lower elevations. This means that foresters are growing spruce under conditions which are not suitable for it (out of its ecological optimum).

If the expected global climate change occurs, spruce vegetation might migrate to the higher elevations and natural spruce growth would remain only at the top of the few highest peaks in the Czech mountains. In such a case we can also expect a mass degradation of spruce monocultures at lower elevations where the spruce will be completely out of its ecological habitat. With this is mind it is incomprehensible that 50 per cent of forests at these lower elevations are still reforested with spruce.

The inner structure of forests is significantly changed by the growth of spruce monocultures. The forest structure in a monoculture contains an artificially high stand density, trees all of the same age and species, and results in closure of the tree canopy. The vertical diversity is minimized (lower younger and higher older trees and various bushes are missing) and herbs are ruthlessly suppressed due to the increased shade (mostly in the younger growths).

The reduction in species and genetic diversity is even more radical owing to the monotony of structure and decrease in sunlight. The methods used to extract wood during clearcuts further damage many species of plants, animals and micro-organisms, which are killed directly or indirectly by loss of habitat.

Because all the wood is removed, the forests forego the period of decomposition which is an irreplaceable source of biodiversity. Clearcuts completely change the character of the vegetation, as the clearings (paseka) are soon covered by light-loving species like the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), great willow herb (Chamerion angustifolium) and grove ragwort (Senecio ovatus). In the last decade an invasive bush reed grass (Calamagrostis epigejos) has dangerously expanded within the spruce monocultures (in the mountain areas it is complimented by hairy reed grass - Calamagrostis villosa) and it represses the majority of native forest species. The expansion of the range of spruce monocultures has caused a radical decline in most forest herbs, which under ordinary circumstances form a green ground cover in leafy and mixed forests.

Forest hydrology is also disrupted by such changes, as is the water system in the countryside at large. Interception and absorption of precipitation are reduced. World Rainforest Movement

Knowing all this, why are public resources being sold in Germany to pay for the present and future private incompetance of a disaster waiting to happen. Who will pick up the ecological and financial price tag in the future? These mono-culture plantations are a white collar crime. The plantations damage the natural ecological balance, damage natural species habitat and create the spread of non-native mono-culture-disease. Public resources are paying for this? It is insane.