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Interview with Eckhard Schulte | Boker Tree Planting Campaign

Lush green leaves, birdsong and now and then a silent observer on four legs. A walk in the forest can be relaxing and exciting at the same time, because young and old can discover many interesting things there. The forest provides a habitat for numerous animal and plant species and at the same time plays an important role as a catalyst in nature. It gives us the air to breathe while producing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide. In addition, the forest is raw material supplier for wood with the „Made by Nature“ quality seal. However, this complex ecosystem is very fragile and sensitive to external changes. Heat, drought, and pest infestations have been causing our forests a great deal of trouble for years.

Boker also takes the issue of forest decline very seriously and, in cooperation with the Bergisches Land Forestry Association (FWV-BL), has launched the „Boker Tree Campaign“. Thanks to the overwhelming response to the promise to plant a tree in the Bergisches Land region with every order, local forest areas have been sustainably reforested. The result: 12,000 trees were planted, so that in a few years a vibrant forest will once again be created there. Eckhard Schulte, the 1st Chairman of FWV-BL, sheds light on the causes of forest decline and provides insights into strategies for reforesting cleared forest areas.

How does forest decline occur and what role does the bark beetle play in it?

We have had three consecutive summers of extreme heat and drought starting in 2018. Precipitation in the important period from April to August was far too low compared to what was needed. This was very hard on the forests in the Bergisches Land region. In addition, there were several storms that brought down many a tree. This is where the bark beetle comes into play. The deadwood is an ideal breeding ground for the bark beetle, which is also a specific pest of the farms. bark beetle, which is also a specific pest of the spruce, which is widespread. The beetle lays its breeding tunnels in the cambium of the tree, which is normally able to defend itself by the flow of resin, thus literally suffocating the bark beetle. But the extreme conditions meant that the trees had hardly any resin left in them, allowing the bark beetle to reproduce explosively, with up to four broods a year. This led to the death of the spruce forest and thus necessitated large-scale clearing.

The spruce is considered the leading tree in the Bergisches Land. How will the picture in our forests change in the future?

Our forests consist of about one third deciduous trees. However, these are not necessarily considered value timber, such as the Spessart oak from the Spessart region. There are some good beech trees here and there, but on balance, deciduous species have been somewhat neglected. In light of global warming and CO2 emissions, we need to focus on a selective composition of tree species that can cope with climatic changes.

What is your response to the radical clearing of spruce stands and what is the reforestation strategy?

The motto for this is the same as on the stock market: minimize risk by mixing. By planting different tree species in one plot, we create a structural reinforcement of the affected areas and provide a „neighborly help“ among the trees. We are talking about about 10 tree species per plot in order to grow up a healthy and resistant mixed forest. Since there are no long studies on this yet, the first rule is „try before you buy“. There are tendencies as to which tree species cope better with the climatic conditions. However, it should also be noted that a mixed forest presents a challenge for later processing. Grading for sawmills, which usually specialize in one species or quality grade, is a major logistical challenge. To get a certain amount of wood of the same quality can only be realized with a higher additional effort. This change requires a rethinking on the part of forest farmers and sawmills alike in order to manage a forest commercially.

Which tree species are specifically planted for the „Boker Forest“?

For this, we choose a healthy mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. The mixed forest contains maple, beech and chestnut as well as the conifers Douglas fir, larch, coastal fir and silver fir. In three to four years, you can already very well see the first fruits of success. This will definitely be a very beautiful forest.

How do you ensure that the plants can grow up properly and are not destroyed?

First of all, we hope that the coming spring will not be too hot and will bring sufficient rainfall. Because watering is not possible at this scale. The greatest danger to the seedlings here comes from deer. These nibble at everything near the ground and thus cause immense damage to the seedlings. Wild boars also dig up the affected areas when searching for food. For this reason, the plots are temporarily fenced off by gates to provide effective protection against deer browsing. After about five years, the deer can no longer reach the shoots, so the fencing can be removed. The stakes rot in the ground and are thus returned to nature. In the first few years it is very important to cut the young trees free of ferns and thorny bushes, as these can really crush the saplings when it snows. We are in good spirits, however, as 70% of the bare areas have been replanted.

How many plants were there this planting season alone and how many more are planned?

In the spring, we planted about 20,000 seedlings with 10 different tree species. In the fall, the same amount is planned again. This is enough for an area of 10 ha. With the total size of my farm of 100 ha, this means that 10% could already be reforested in one year.

It is good to see that there is a perspective for our local forests. What is the next step?

First of all, I would like to express a big thank you to the people in charge at Boker, who have brought the importance of our forests a little more into focus with the „Boker Tree Campaign“. My thanks also go, of course, to the many Boker customers who participated in the campaign. Our society faces a major challenge in realizing and coming to grips with global climate change. We are using this as an opportunity to carry out further projects of this kind in the future. To this end, we plan to establish a non-profit association that raises funds from industry, as was done with the sponsorship of Boker as part of the tree campaign. In this way, we would like to support forest farmers who cannot afford to plant trees due to the loss-making past years. I am very optimistic that reforestation will go ahead so that future generations can benefit from a healthy forest.

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