Peter Wohlleben has been a bestselling author since "The Secret Life of Trees"

How Peter Wohlleben wants to save the forest

Peter Wohlleben has been a bestselling author since “The Secret Life of Trees”. He recommends leaving the forest to its own devices.

The forest suffers from climate change. Germany’s best-known forester, Peter Wohlleben, wants to give him some rest, and Environment Minister Lemke wants to cut down on wood.

The German forests are suffering, the drought of recent years has hit them hard. According to the new Forest Monitor, a quarter of the trees have massively lost their vitality. The crowns become light because too few nutrients arrive. Only every fifth tree is healthy.

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke wants to save the forest in which fewer trees are felled. So far, the forests were trimmed primarily to provide raw materials. That should change. “We need a paradigm shift in the forest,” she said on Tuesday at the forest climate summit in Berlin.

These are Lemke’s suggestions for protecting the forest

Lemke’s ideas have it all. Old forests and beech stands should no longer be felled at all. The Green politician wants to rebuild pure wood plantations, new ones should no longer be planted. What has to be wrested from the forest owners in practice and takes decades, has a catch even in theory. Because the forests should continue to supply wood so that it can be used in the construction of houses and apartments.

More wood means less concrete and therefore less C02 that gets into the atmosphere. A lot of greenhouse gases are released during the production of concrete. “We have to start acting now, we haven’t done enough,” demands Lemke.

Germany’s most famous forester Peter Wohlleben invites you

Germany’s best-known forester had invited to this forest summit. Peter Wohlleben has an answer to the minister’s request that at first sounds paradoxical. The action urged by Lemke should be non-action. “The forests that are left alone will come through the climate crisis better,” says Wohlleben. When he hears the word forest conversion, Wohlleben immediately starts to protest. “You cannot rebuild the forest. That’s hubris.” The man from the Eifel region believes that nature alone can judge. “It’s been doing this for 300 million years.”

Wohlleben no longer works as a forester. He writes books read by millions, has his own magazine and runs a forest academy. He is controversial among forest owners and forest scientists, and is considered by many to be esoteric because he wrote that trees communicate with each other. But the 58-year-old is aware that money should continue to be earned with the forest.

Deciduous trees with autumn leaves
Deciduous trees with autumn leaves

So its owners – private individuals and state-owned companies – should get money for leaving it alone. Forest owners are paid as climate protectors. “An old beech forest is 8 degrees cooler than a spruce forest,” says Wohlleben. Deciduous forests also hold water better. The owners should receive bonuses from the state for this climate performance. This could be checked with satellites, which can also measure the temperature over a stretch of land. Wohlleben’s idea: If more trees are felled, the forest becomes warmer and the state subsidies are smaller.

Climate change: Steffi Lemke collects ideas for saving the forest

The Environment Minister is currently collecting ideas for saving the forest. Unlike her host, Steffi Lemke does not pursue politics in a vacuum. She has to take economic interests into account, building with wood should no longer remain an exotic exception in Germany. “The timber industry is important, I don’t want to deny that at all,” she says.

One way out of the dilemma could be that there are more forests again. The predecessors of the current traffic light government had promised millions of new trees, as did Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU). But in reality, Germany loses entire soccer fields every day because apartments, roads and factories are being built on them. The forest rescue is like the energy transition. Most are for it, but in practice the odds are great.