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In Germany, rising temperatures and droughts have made trees more vulnerable to attacks by bark beetles and other insects – That’s led to a nearly sixfold jump in forests destroyed by pests over the past two years. Around 32 million cubic meters (1,130 million cubic feet) of wood damaged by insects had to be removed from Germany’s forests in 2019, the Federal Statistical Office reported this week.

That total is three times higher than the 11 million cubic meters that was destroyed in 2018, and an almost sixfold increase on the 6 million cubic meters felled due to pests in 2017.

“In recent years, the native forests have suffered from drought and hot spells,” the Wiesbaden-based statisticians said.

“Pests like bark beetle can multiply increasingly quickly in already weakened trees.”

Additional reporting

Central Europe: Spruce bark beetle and its impact on wood markets – Between 2017 and 2019, over 270 million m3 of standing timber in Central Europe was damaged by a combination of factors: primarily, changing climate conditions that featured hotter, drier summers and warmer winters. In combination with frequent windstorms, this created ideal conditions for the spread of spruce bark beetles, especially at lower elevations.

The damage is across many countries, including Poland, Switzerland, Slovakia, Italy and Sweden, but the most severe losses have been in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. The outbreak in these three countries is so severe that FEA analysis predicts that the killed timber volume from the European spruce bark beetle will eventually exceed that of the British Columbia Interior’s mountain pine beetle outbreak.

Log exports – In 2019, log export markets proved to be an important release valve for excess salvage spruce logs that were surplus to domestic mills’ needs in Germany and the Czech Republic. This trend will continue throughout the salvage harvest, especially since beetle-killed logs are being harvested at close to cost levels in Central Europe, allowing for exported logs to be competitively priced for volume sales to China.

In the current year, the rise in log exports is expected to pause due to curtailments related to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this assumption could quickly change if China’s log demand picks up. Note that Germany and the Czech Republic accounted for 80% of log exports from Europe to China in 2019, a proportion we expect to grow in 2020 and beyond.

Assuming that markets return to more normal conditions later this year, log exports from Central Europe should continue to rise — perhaps even sharply, depending on market demand, container rates and container availability. Based on the potential harvest of damaged timber and the capacity limits of the central European sawmill industry to process the damaged logs, rising log export volumes could result in major disruptions to global trade flows.

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