Less deer for more forest? Dispute over new hunting law

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To make the forest more resistant, more deciduous trees should grow between pine and spruce. But their shoots are often nibbled by deer and other game. This brings forest rangers and hunters together. Can an amendment to the hunting law help?

Berlin (dpa) – In order to protect young deciduous trees and strengthen Germany’s forests, the Federal Government wants to enable more deer shooting.

However, the draft by Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) for an amendment to the Federal Hunting Act has so far not satisfied foresters or hunters.

Hikers and walkers are happy when they see a deer in the forest, but from a forest ranger’s point of view there are too many. Game bite, as experts say, is considered a major obstacle to «forest conversion» – the conversion of monocultures into mixed forests. This should make Germany’s heavily damaged forests more resistant to climate change and pests. And that is urgently needed.

245,000 hectares, almost the size of the Saarland, need to be reforested after the dry and hot summers of the past years. Storms, droughts and pests such as bark beetles have severely affected the forest. The three million hectares of pine and spruce forests, in which little else grows, are particularly vulnerable – this is more than a quarter of the total forest area.

Klöckner’s proposal to create a “sustainable balance between forest and game”: In future, there will no longer be official shooting plans for roe deer in all cases. Instead, forest owners and hunters on site should agree on an annual minimum shot in the hunting lease contract and have it approved by the authorities. If this does not work or the target is too low, the hunting authority sets a minimum shooting rate. “Bite reports”, that is, reports on eroded trees, should then be included.

In addition, the law should stipulate that “the natural regeneration of the forest should be possible essentially without protective measures” – in other words, without protective fences around young trees. Klöckner explained that the company wanted to rely on “personal responsibility on site”.

The Federation of German Foresters is not happy in this form. “In Germany we tend to have almost too large game populations across the board,” said Chairman Ulrich Dohle of the German Press Agency. Hunting management is a “very important key” to success in forest conversion – in addition to more forest personnel, because this has been reduced significantly in recent times.

On the one hand, Dohle is dissatisfied with the formulation of “natural rejuvenation” – from the point of view of the forest workers, it should be made clear that beech, oak, maple, ash and others are also involved, which often currently have no chance. In addition, forest owners and hunters sometimes lacked the factual basis and sometimes the competence to determine how much to shoot. Official expert reports on vegetation are needed as a basis. In Bavaria this has been established for a long time, there it is doing much better with forest regeneration than in the rest of Germany, explained Dohle.

Others argue that too. The amendment to the Federal Hunting Act would set the course for the future of the forest, said the President of the German Forestry Council, Georg Schirmbeck. And the president of the Forest Owners Association AGDW, Hans-Georg von der Marwitz, called for “taking all possible steps” to preserve the forest. Both agree that mixed tree species should be able to grow up “essentially without protection” and that “vegetation reports are needed as an objective basis”.

The German Hunting Association sees it differently. The deputy managing director, Torsten Reinwald, praised the fact that hunting should be decided on site because the situation in the forests is very different. To make mixed forests from softwood monocultures or damaged areas, you have to sow or plant them. “We are challenged in these areas, so we have to hunt more intensely,” he said. However, further protective measures are needed, for example to protect deciduous trees from other plants that would otherwise displace them.

“Just to say we shoot deer and deer, then the forest grows, it doesn’t work,” said Reinwald. “Planting an unprotected deciduous tree in a pine or spruce desert is like presenting a bowl of chocolates to a chocolate lover.” A hunting concept must also include whether there are rest areas for the game and sufficient feed, or whether areas are particularly affected by tourism or traffic. An extension of the hunting season could even lead to more bite if deer and deer were stressed even in winter and therefore needed feed.

However, there are also hunters who see it differently. The issue is that the near-natural development of the forest has priority over “interests of backward-looking representatives of an outdated hunt and trophy hunt,” said the chairman of the Ecological Hunting Association, Elisabeth Emmert. If the responsibility for a “consistently forest-friendly hunt” is shifted to the local actors, politics will not live up to its obligation.

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