Forest dieback

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Dead spruce trees in the Ore Mountains (1998)

As dying forests (also: novel forest damage ) will damage the forest referred to extensively occur since 1980. The distribution area includes Central , Northern and Eastern Europe . It is characteristic that the damage patterns appear regardless of the climate , location and silvicultural practices. The symptoms differ between wood species, regions and forest locations.

Typical features of the damaged forest:

  • Illumination of the crown area due to premature leaf fall
  • Formation of fewer and smaller leaf organs and branching anomalies,
  • poor reproductive capacity of the root system and reduced interaction with mycorrhizal fungi
  • Fine roots die off

A single triggering cause of forest dieback could not be determined. The complex effects of various air pollutants seem to be central. Recently, older stands and single trees of numerous tree species are increasingly dying , which is seen in connection with climate change .

See also: Forest damage - specifically on symptoms and causes.


Completely devastated forest slope in the Czech Ore Mountains in 1998 - the cause of this widespread death was the flue gases from outdated lignite power stations.

The term forest dieback socially reflected the concern that was widespread in the Federal Republic of Germany , Austria and Switzerland in the 1980s that the forest stand was in danger and that large areas of the forests would be threatened with extinction in the near future. The concern did not relate to specific new forest damage patterns , but to the fact that the symptoms occurred in areas far from significant sources of emissions, that they were widely distributed and that several tree species were affected. This was noted in the mid-1970s and has since been publicly addressed, particularly in Central and Northern Europe.

Forest dieback was one of the most important environmental issues in German-speaking countries in the 1980s. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the debate about the death of the forest had considerable political, industrial and social effects and is one of the reasons for the rise of the Green Party . In the first half of the 1980s there was a consensus across West German society and throughout the political spectrum on the urgency and gravity of the issue. The public discussion focused on acid rain as the cause . Possible other causes such as incorrect tillering or temporary drought have not been discussed for a long time. As a result of the forest dieback debate, political measures were taken that resulted in a significant reduction in emissions. It cannot be said how the state of the forest would have developed without the introduction of these measures.

From the perspective of environmental history , the forest dying debate enables a deeper look at society and politics in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1980s.

Forest dieback not only shows typical characteristics of a modern environmental problem , but was also clearly embedded in the historical crisis situation at the time. In this sense, forest dieback is part of contemporary history beyond the environmental aspect .

According to the results of a research project on forest dieback led by Roderich von Detten , the extraordinary emotional intensity of the debates, especially in the Federal Republic of Germany, cannot be understood solely from the forest botanical reality. Some critics viewed the forest dieback as a pure media phenomenon that would have conjured up an exaggerated, apocalyptic scenario and triggered alarmism .

The fact that the forest dying debate reappeared in the media at the end of the 2010s has to be seen in direct connection with the paradigm of the “ climate crisis ”, which now dominated the public discussion. The Federation of German Foresters announced - as many federal states and municipalities did at the time - a “ climate emergency for the forest”.


In terms of damage, there are parallels between the early “smoke damage” and the later “forest dieback”. The dramatic television images of heavily damaged forest areas from the 1980s all come from a few spots in the Harz or Ore Mountains . The intensified use of the existing lignite deposits in the Federal Republic of Germany (including Upper Palatinate ), the GDR and ČSSR at the end of the 1970s and inadequate environmental technology led to pollution that was already declared and named as smoke damage in the early industrialization . However, individual symptoms of the "new" forest damage are already depicted on landscape paintings from earlier centuries. The smelting of sulfide-rich ores, which began in the Middle Ages , can only be partially blamed for this.

Contrary to the definition in the Duden dictionary, the phenomenon of forest death goes well beyond the death of individual trees. What was essentially new was the idea of ​​a dying forest organism - instead of dying individual trees. In the best-selling newspapers and magazines in Germany, more than 100 articles appeared between 1981 and 1988 about forest dieback. Various causes of damage and damage were subsumed under the term forest dieback and were observed and perceived very intensively in the public and the media.

The basis for this had only been created by holistic concepts such as the “ permanent forest ” concept introduced by the forest scientist Alfred Möller in a long-lasting research controversy in 1922 . In this respect, the forest dieback was preceded by a far-reaching “change in the way things looked at the problem”, which around 1980 made it a topic that was previously not emotionally charged to that extent, especially in Germany. The earlier mythical charge of the “ German forest ” as well as apocalyptic fears, which were justified at the time (cf. Able Archer 83 ), helped to establish forest dying as a non-partisan collective symbol. The forest dieback is "prototypical for modern environmental problems" with regard to the sequence of basic social moods, media excitement cycles, political decision-making pressures and scientific detailed considerations.

With reference to actually observed forest damage , the "forest dieback" should not be interpreted as a mere media phenomenon in the sense of radical constructivism . In 1996, the geobotanist Heinz Ellenberg described forest dieback as a construct that came about through the application of standardized estimation aids to different forest areas and in years with different weather conditions. The term was not used scientifically for long and was soon replaced by new types of forest damage , whereas it is still anchored in common parlance.

From the mid-2010s onwards one also speaks of “new tree deaths”, since primarily individual trees in total stands die. The Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND) created a differentiation between “Forest Death 1.0” and “Forest Death 2.0”. In it, the forest diebacks of the 2010s caused by the climate crisis were differentiated as "Forest dieback 2.0" compared to the forest diebacks of the 1980s.


Development of forest damage in the Federal Republic

The scientific considerations on forest dieback can be divided into three phases.

Early 1980s

1979–1983 the forest scientists Bernhard Ulrich and Peter Schütt warned of an imminent or taking place forest dieback and called for an improvement in air pollution control. The mass media took up these warnings, and with a cover story in Spiegel magazine in November 1981, the topic had a public breakthrough.

In mid-1983, forest dieback was also firmly established as a research topic. As a consensus of the causes, a stress complex with regionally different weighting with a decisive contribution to air pollution and acid rain established itself . This summarizes the otherwise quite different and also controversially discussed pathways and pollutants . The year 1983 also saw the climax of the public debate, and effective measures for air pollution control were adopted in politics, which went beyond the Federal Immission Control Act for Air Pollution Control of 1971. This included the installation of flue gas desulphurisation systems in power plants , which were the main emitters of sulfur dioxide .

The designation “novel forest damage ” was initially considered a euphemism , but has been established for the damage patterns identified since 1983. Since then, there has been no talk of forest dieback within forest science .

Late 1980s

From 1983/84 to 1992, forest scientists began to normalize their approach to forest dying, which was increasingly less politically and emotionally charged. In 1984 a good third of the forest in the Federal Republic of Germany was found to be damaged, which subsumes all conceivable forest damage. This forest damage was increasingly treated primarily as a scientific question, many of the alleged symptoms of forest death turned out to be misinterpretations; The main indicators of the condition of the forest were crown defoliation and leaf or needle yellowing, which were quantified in annual forest condition surveys and ongoing investigations. The preoccupation with forest damage in research then decreased considerably.

1990s and early 2000s

In the third phase, from 1992 to the 2000s, pure forest damage research was differentiated into broader forest ecosystem research. Despite intensive research, no final chain of effects could be determined; the common main cause was seen in air pollutants that are transported over great distances.

The pollution was again reduced after the shutdown of many East German lignite power plants after reunification , which until then had largely operated without filter systems. As a result, total sulfur dioxide emissions in Germany fell from around 7.5 million tons per year in the 1970s and early 1980s to around 0.5 million tons in the years after the turn of the millennium. From the mid-1990s onwards, subject-specific publications were increasingly oriented towards basic sub-problems, the forest itself and the condition of the forest increasingly disappeared again from the scientific discourse. In 2003, the then Federal Minister of Agriculture, Renate Künast , declared the "forest dieback" to be over, in accordance with the findings of its European neighbors. The trend towards a negative development has stopped. The condition of the forests has stabilized, even if parts of the tree population showed significant damage. According to the ministry, this does not yet mean the all-clear because there are still large damaged stocks.

Contrary to the debate at the time, a strong increase in forests in Central Europe was noted. In largely all European countries, the increase in forest area in the two decades around the turn of the millennium was over 20%, especially in East Central Europe even over 50%.

For the really badly damaged areas, on the other hand, a rethinking of the reconstruction of the forest through natural regeneration began.In some nature reserves, including the Bavarian Forest or the Berchtesgaden National Park , deforestation was seen as an opportunity for an ecological experiment. The focus shifted to buffering the renaturation zones to the surrounding area used for forestry, and researching the consequences instead of researching the causes.


The later 2000s were primarily characterized by the prevailing damage caused by the bark beetle on spruce trees after the heavy storms of the decade ( Lothar 1999 , then Kyrill , Paula , Emma ). The public attention, however, turned to the deforestation of the tropical rainforest .

In the later 2010s the debate about general forest dieback flared up again. After the hot summer of 2003 , global warming increased the number of heat waves and months and seasons of unprecedented heat in the 2010s , even in the cooler seasons, including abnormally warm winters with little precipitation. As a result of this drought stress and the change in regional climates, there is not only extensive damage from storms and bark beetles, but also symptoms of individual main tree species such as oak, beech, pine and fir, and new infections in ash (ash dieback) or maple (soot bark disease). Mortality has doubled in Central Europe since the 1980s, and older and larger specimens tend to be affected. Overall, the cause is seen as a general "climate stress" and a still not sufficiently known interaction of individual factors. The extent to which the forest dieback in the 1980s was a consequence of the incipient man-made global warming, or the contemporary forest dieback was a consequence of the first phase, is the subject of current research. A connection with more modern forms of felling, from clear-cutting to the increased removal of individual trees, is suspected, but also in lost opportunities to convert the forest towards more diverse and stress-resistant stands.

Research history

In the course of the debate, the large-scale and generously funded research projects came to a mostly neglected conclusion in the 1990s, which was hardly discussed in public. Environmental history research therefore speaks of an almost forgotten environmental debate. In 1995, Ulrich expressed skepticism about his hypothesis of forest dieback, published 15 years earlier.

According to the weekly newspaper “ Die Zeit ”, the Federal Republic of Germany spent 367 million marks on forest damage research from 1982 to 1998, and 180 million on forest ecosystem research. An unknown amount was spent on the statistical surveys on the forest condition report, which were carried out from 1984 to 2003. According to information provided by Roland Schäfer and Birgit Metzger, the Federal Environment Agency names more than 850 research projects that were funded between 1982 and 1992 with a total of DM 465 million.

Forest status until 2009

In 2000, according to the official forest status report from Germany, around 35 percent of all forest trees were still without recognizable damage, in 2004 it was only 28 percent, while 65 percent fell into the warning level and almost a third had significant damage. According to the 2009 forest status report, an average of 27 percent of all tree species showed significant crown defoliation, with some regions and individual tree species being affected far more severely. Only 36 percent of the trees showed no defoliation.

The forest death debate as a research topic

From 2006 to 2010 there was a historical DFG project at the University of Freiburg with the title Waldsterben - And the forests die forever . The title consciously alludes to the novel And forever sing the forests . According to this, the scientific debate was a prerequisite for raising awareness of immission-related forest damage, but its influence on the social interpretation of these findings was minimal. Backgrounds such as the process of urbanization and motorization, increasing leisure time, the specifically German, folk- mystical charge of the forest, the self-sufficiency policy of the National Socialists and the implementation of socially hygienic interpretation patterns at the beginning of the 20th century played a role in the public interpretation . Schäfer and Metzger, on the other hand, consider the statements of scientists and forestry practitioners to be of great relevance for the public and political debate, even beyond the first damage reports. The consideration also suggests that an interpretation based on scientification processes should be treated with caution. When it came to interpreting individual forest damage as a socially relevant environmental problem, experts had little influence and 'science' was by no means the driving force. The much discussed concept of the knowledge society can hardly be used.


Although the forest damage did not only occur in Central Europe for a long time, but almost all of Europe and North America were affected, the forest death was particularly intensely debated in the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland, while this happened less in neighboring countries. The research examined in particular the different reception of the specifically West German forest dying discourse in the GDR and in France. In France, damage also occurred in some cases, even if it was less pronounced than in the German low mountain ranges due to the far lower exposure to sulfur dioxide and other smoke gases in most parts of the country. Nevertheless, under the catchphrases "dépérissement des forêts" "(literally:" forest stuntedness ") and" le mal des forêts "(" disease of the forests ") a debate was in many respects comparable.

In 1999, with hurricane Lothar, forest and forest damage in France became a public issue again. The focus was much more on the ownership structure and the type of use than on mythologizing the forest itself. As a result, the French public addressed the traditional, monopoly ownership structures more than the damage patterns, which were primarily discussed under the aspect of economic effects. The word le Waldsterben entered French as a foreign word ( Germanism ).

The French historian Michel Dupuy advocates the thesis that the oppositional environmental movement, which arose primarily due to air pollution, contributed significantly to the fall of the GDR through its political work.


See also


  • The thing with the forest . In: Franz Bauer (Hrsg.): Allgemeine Forstzeitschrift . Special tape. BLV Verlag, 1985, ISSN  0002-5860 .
  • Martin Bemmann, Birgit Metzger, Roland Schäfer: The German forest dieback as a historical phenomenon . In: Revue d'Allemagne et des Pays de langue allemande . Volume 3, Volume 39, 2007, p. 423-436 .
  • Roderich von Detten: Environmental Policy and Uncertainty. On the interaction between science and environmental policy in the debate about forest dieback in the 1980s. In: Archives for Social History . 50, 2010, pp. 217-269.
  • Wolfram Elling, Ulrich Heber, Andrea Polle, Friedrich Beese: Damage to forest ecosystems . Effects of anthropogenic environmental changes and protective measures. Spectrum , Heidelberg / Berlin / Oxford 2007, ISBN 978-3-8274-1765-7 .
  • Günter Hartmann, Franz Nienhaus, Heinz Butin: Color Atlas Forest Damage . Diagnosis of tree diseases. 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Ulmer, Stuttgart (Hohenheim) 1995, ISBN 3-8001-3351-2 .
  • Rudi Holzberger: The so-called forest dieback . To the career of a cliché. The forest topic in journalistic discourse. Eppe, Bergatreute 1995, ISBN 3-89089-750-9 .
  • Stefan Kunze, Heinz Ruppertshofen: Forest protection practice . Strategies against forest dieback. Landbuch, Hannover 1995, ISBN 3-7842-0520-8 .
  • Claudia Kurz: Causal analysis and bioindication of the new types of forest damage based on the polyamine and phenol status using the example of Picea abies (spruce), Abies alba (silver fir) and Quercus Petraea (oak) . ocular assessment versus bioindication? ( Microfiche ), Mainz 1999, DNB  958433380 ( dissertation at the University of Mainz 1999).
  • Hartmut K. Lichtenthaler, Claus Buschmann: The forest dieback from a botanical point of view . Braun, Karlsruhe 1984, ISBN 3-7650-2035-4 .
  • Birgit Metzger: “First the forest dies, then you!” The forest dying as a West German political issue (1978–1986) . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2015, ISBN 978-3-593-50092-8 ( review by H-Soz-Kult ).
  • Ministry for the Environment, Spatial Planning and Agriculture of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (Ed.): Final documentation on the research focus "Air Pollution and Forest Damage" of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia: Goals, results, conclusions . A balance sheet of nine years of forest damage research in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Ministry for the Environment, Regional Planning and Agriculture NRW, Düsseldorf 1993, DNB  940119927 .
  • Burkhard Müller-Ullrich : The forest dying - a wrong way . In: media fairy tales. Thinkers in journalism . Blessing, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-89667-002-6 , p. 24–34 ( DIE ZEIT review ).
  • Zeno Nöthig: The forest dieback . Literature evaluation on the state of knowledge and the explanatory hypotheses. In: Institute for Automotive Engineering, RWTH Aachen (ed.): Technical University of Aachen: IKA series of automotive technology . tape 7 . Automotive Research Association, Aachen 1986, ISBN 3-925194-05-3 .
  • Roland Schäfer: "Lametta Syndrome" and "Acid Steppe": The Dying Forest and Forest Sciences 1979-2007 . Institute for Forest Economics, University of Freiburg , Freiburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-9811351-6-9 ( online PDF ( memento of April 9, 2019 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Peter Schütt et al: The forest dies of stress . Completely revised and updated edition. Ullstein Verlag Taschenbuch 34471 series Ullstein-Sachbuch, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-548-34471-2 (license from Bertelsmann-Verlagsgesellschaft Munich).
  • Peter Schütt et al: This is how the forest dies . Damage and disease course. 5th revised edition. blv , Munich / Vienna / Zurich 1986, ISBN 3-405-13101-4 (first edition: 1983).
  • Horst Stern (ed.): Save the forest . 2nd updated edition. Kindler, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-463-40107-X (first edition: 1979).
  • Gerhard Voss, Uwe Arndt: What we know about forest dieback . Ed .: Erwin Nießlein. Deutscher Instituts-Verlag, Cologne 1985, ISBN 3-602-14158-6 .
  • Karl F. Wentzel: What remains of the forest dieback? Balance sheet and food for thought to reassess the current response of forests to air pollutants. In: Series of publications by the Institute for Forest Policy at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau . tape 5 . HochschulVerlag, Aachen / Hamburg / Freiburg im Breisgau 2001, ISBN 3-8107-6805-7 .
  • Ernst-Detlef Schulze , Otto Ludwig Lange: The effects of air pollution on forest ecosystems . In: Chemistry in Our Time . tape 24 , no. 3 , June 1990, ISSN  0009-2851 , pp. 117–130 , doi : 10.1002 / ciuz.19900240306 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Waldsterben  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Die Waldsterben  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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  3. a b Ivo Willimann, Helena Egli-Broz: Ecology: Introduction to the interactions between man and nature. Compendio Bildungsmedien 2010, ISBN 978-3-7155-9446-0 , p. 140; online in google books
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  7. a b And the forests die forever Roland Schäfer - "Lametta syndrome" and "Acid steppe": The forest dieback and forest sciences 1979–2007.
  8. Roland Schäfer, Birgit Metzger, in Patrick Masius, Ole Sparenberg, Jana Sprenger (Eds.): What actually does forest dieback? On the social relevance of a young discipline. (PDF; 4.3 MB), Graduate School Interdisciplinary Environmental History, Environmental History and Environmental Future (2009)
  9. The so-called forest dieback. Rudi Holzberger. Publisher: Eppe 2002, ISBN 3-89089-750-9 , first edition 1995 as a dissertation in Konstanz
  10. a b c d e Almost forgotten debates in environmental history What does forest dieback actually do? Roland Schäfer, Birgit Metzger, in Masius, Patrick Sparenberg, Ole Sprenger, Jana (eds.): Environmental history and environmental future On the social relevance of a young discipline Göttingen University Press , ISBN 978-3-940344-69-4 , pp. 201–221.
  11. Climate catastrophe: BDF declares a climate emergency for the forest. In:, July 16, 2019.
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  13. Waldsterben ,, accessed on July 30, 2013.
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  15. Heinz Ellenberg : Vegetation of Central Europe with the Alps in an ecological, dynamic and historical perspective. 5th, heavily changed and improved edition. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-8001-2696-6 , p. 99.
  16. BUND: "Forest Die 2.0"
  17. ^ O. V .: Acid rain: There is something in the air . In: Der Spiegel . No. 47 , 1981, p. 96-110 ( online ).
  18. Spiegel, in-house communication Re .: Waldsterben 1/1994 In issues 47, 48 and 49 a three-part report appeared
  19. Spiegel archive issue 47/1981
  20. a b R. Schäfer, B. Metzger: What does forest dieback actually do? In: P. Masius et al. (Ed.): Environmental history and environmental future: On the social relevance of a young discipline. Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2009, ISBN 978-3-940344-69-4 , p. 210.
  21. Air pollutant emissions - development in recent decades and projection into the future ( Memento from September 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 1.0 MB). University of Stuttgart , accessed on May 27, 2013.
  22. ^ Forest dying in Germany stopped WiWo, July 13, 2003.
  23. a b Forests grow in rich countries., May 14, 2018 - on a study by the FAO, with the Global Comparison map : Forest development from 1990 to 2015 .
  24. ↑ Something like : The Eternal Patient. The forest is not dead, but it suffers (20 years of forest death) . Jörg-Andreas Krüger, on, undated .;
    It affects all of Germany: The great forest dieback. In: Focus online, August 1, 2019;
    Germany laments the "forest dieback 2.0", but how bad is the forest really? In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung online, August 6, 2019.
  25. Hot time, pests, permanent drought: Our trees are dying - and it's even worse than in the 1980s. In: Focus online, April 1, 2019 (Statement by the Association of German Foresters).
  26. a b c Cornelius Senf, Dirk Pflugmacher, Yang Zhiqiang, Julius Sebald, Jan Knorn, Mathias Neumann, Patrick Hostert & Rupert Seidl: Canopy mortality has doubled in Europe's temperate forests over the last three decades . In: Nature Communications . tape 9 , 2018, doi : 10.1038 / s41467-018-07539-6 ( article , - also:
    After the forest dieback comes the tree die., November 26, 2018;
    New tree deaths in Central Europe?, November 27, 2018.
  27. Ulrike Fokken: Climate change in Germany: The forest dies quietly . In: The daily newspaper: taz . August 9, 2019, ISSN  0931-9085 ( [accessed October 14, 2019]).
  28. ^ Bernhard Ulrich: The history and possible causes of forest decline in central Europe, with particular attention to the German situation . In: Environmental Reviews . tape 3 , no. 3-4 , July 1995, ISSN  1181-8700 , pp. 262-276 , doi : 10.1139 / a95-013 .
  29. R. Schäfer, B. Metzger: What does forest dieback actually do? In: P. Masius et al. (Ed.): Environmental history and environmental future: On the social relevance of a young discipline. Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2009, ISBN 978-3-940344-69-4 , p. 204.
  30. Federal Working Group Forests: Forest condition in Germany and Europe further deteriorated - recovery of the forest in the new federal states at an end , press release on the forest damage report 2000, November 29, 2000.
  31. scinexx: Forest is dying more than ever: German Forest Status Report 2004 with an alarming balance , accessed on October 20, 2014.
  32. Results of the forest condition survey 2009. (online) ( Memento from June 4, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  33. DFG project page: Forest dieback - And forests die forever
  34. SWR interview with Roderich von Detten "The forest has been dying for over 25 years" SWR online 2008.
  35. a b conference report And the forests die forever. The German "forest dieback" in a multidisciplinary perspective , organizer: Freiburg Chair for Economic and Social History of the Historical Seminar ( Franz-Josef Brüggemeier , Jens Ivo Engels ) and the Freiburg Institute for Forest Economics (Gerhard Oesten, Roderich von Detten) Date, place: 13 . – 15. June 2007, Freiburg
  36. Panic mood in the forest
  37. What happened to the forest dying? - Austria - Report (ORF) - July 5, 2011.
  38. See Laurent Schmit: "Le Waldsterben". The acid rain and forest damage debate in France. Sub-study 5 of the DFG project "And the forests die forever" ".
  39. DFG project forest dieback . Website of the University of Freiburg. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  40. ^ Conference report: And the forests die forever. The German "forest dieback" in a multidisciplinary perspective. 13-15 June 2007, Freiburg, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, July 26, 2007, , Dupuy.