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  • For at least five years, the forestry and timber industry in Central Europe has been struggling with the accumulation of damaged wood from drying. Mainly caused by summer droughts and, as a result, bark beetle infestation, the drying phenomenon has accumulated about 250 million m³ in the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany alone. According to official figures, Germany recorded 135 million m³ of damaged wood. In the Czech Republic, 75 million m³ accumulated between 2015 and 2019, and in Austria 41 million m³ were registered.

Almost 500 million m³ of damaged wood by 2024

Based on the evolution of previous calamities it seems that the peak was reached in the period 2019-2021. Even if the calamity is expected to slow down, another 500 million m2 of damaged wood would accumulate over the next five years, bringing the volume to almost 750 million m2 over a ten-year period.

Up to four generations of bark beetles

The Czech Republic has experienced the earliest and greatest climate change. Since the early 1990s, summer rainfall has halved in Moravia. The record summer of 2018 created the perfect conditions for four generations of bark beetles. In 2019, two generations have been observed and it is assumed that there will be only two generations in 2020. The spruce suffers the most from summer droughts and heat. Last year, it was estimated that 31 million m³ of damaged wood was harvested in the Czech Republic, above the usual harvest (30 million m³). We expect further growth in damaged wood this year (42 million m³). A Czech expert group – Czech Forest – even predicts a volume of 50 million m³ in 2020.

16% decrease in spruce stocks 

Starting in 2021, the calamity should be reduced – among other things, because spruce will disappear in many areas below and in particularly dry regions. Since 2018, there has been a decrease in spruce stocks in the Czech Republic. The head of the State Forests in the Czech Republic, Josef Vojacek, already places it at -16%, compared to the most recent forest inventory (see the article “Lesy CR fears a harvest of 15 million m³ this year”). According to available statistics, the volume of damaged wood amounted to 75 million m³ in the years between 2015 and 2019. Another 210 million m³ should be expected from 2020 to 2024. This would mean a halving of 400 million m³ current spruce stocks.

Harvesting is often not possible

Harvesting capacity does not keep up with these volumes. Most of the damaged wood will remain in forests in the coming years, unless the Czech government really implements the drastic measures it already announced last year, for example, the deployment of the army to harvest damaged wood. Holzkurier does not expect a substantial increase in harvesting capacity in the coming years (currently around 30 million m³ / year). At the same time, forest technology companies in Central Europe are also large in Germany and Austria. Thus, a large part of the damaged Czech wood will not be placed on the market, it is likely to remain in the forests. According to the German federal forest inventory (BWI 2012), around 850 million m³ of spruce grow at altitudes below 600 meters in Germany and 376 million m³ above this level. Especially at lower altitudes, large parts of spruce forests have been struggling to survive since 2015.

The volume affected in Germany is slowly declining 

Official data put the volume of damaged wood in Germany at 135 million m³ in the years from 2015 to 2019. The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture expects 55 million m³ of damaged wood this year. Adding the damage caused by last winter’s storm, the volume will reach at least 60 to 65 million m³ in 2020 – and would be below last year’s level (about 70 million m³ of damaged wood).

Several positive news came from the Ministry of Agriculture: “In 2020, the expected percentage of damaged softwoods is considerably lower than last year (2019: 63.7 million m³)”.

The peak is now reached

Despite the large “iron population of bark beetles”, Holzkurier’s editorial team expects the maximum calamity of bark beetles to be reached in 2019/20 in Germany. If there is no other “summer of the century” like the one in 2018, the volumes of damaged wood should decrease starting this year. Harvest volumes could fall from 70 million m³ per year to a normal level, which is well below this figure. The five-year average from 2011-2015 was 54 million m³ per year.

375 million m³ of wood damaged over ten years

If this rather optimistic forecast becomes true, the volume of damaged wood still amounts to 240 million m³ in the years 2020-2024, and thus to 375 million m³ over a period of ten years. Unlike the Czech Republic, until now, relatively small forests, affected by drought, have remained in untapped German forests. German exporters managed to create a “pressure relief valve” by shipping the wood to China in containers. In Germany, exports exploded from 200,000 m³ in 2018 to 3.8 million m³ in 2019. In relative terms, the Czech Republic was even more successful with 2.3 million m³ (+ 1255%). Together, these two countries supplied 14% of China’s log timber demand. Austria exported only 3,000 m³ to China in 2019 (all data obtained from China Customs Statistics).

Topography is now an advantage

Unlike the Czech Republic and Germany, most Austrian spruce stocks are located at an altitude of over 600 meters (580 million m³ or 84%). In the Alpine country, the accumulation of affected wood is mainly concentrated in connection with the lower areas of Upper and Lower Austria.

Another high level

Between 2015 and 2019, the volume of timber affected was 41 million in Austria. In 2019, around 12 million m were registered – a level that can be reached this year as well. 2020 is an extremely dry year, which weakens the trees. A dry winter was followed by an equally dry spring – until the first rainfall was recorded in the areas affected by bark beetles. Previous calamities show that. before considering a decline in beetle populations, there will probably be another period of growth until 2021. Based on available information a sharp decline is expected only after next year. If the predictions come true, up to 48 million cubic meters of damaged wood will be recorded during the five-year period 2020-2024. The percentage of affected wood will fall from two-thirds of the annual harvest to less than 50%.

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