Climate change strikes at the heart of German identity: The Woods


SCHIERKE, Germany – Several retirees, some millennials, a local couple and a technology specialist who saved overtime to take a day off from work gathered around a pile of birch branches that sprouted leaves at one end and a tangle of fine roots in the other one .

One by one, they grabbed a bunch of seedlings and made their way through fallen snow-covered branches, looking for holes that had been excavated in the black earth at the edge of the Harz National Park in the heart of Germany.

"You want to cover them well, and don't leave air pockets under the roots," said Olaf Eggert, the ranger responsible for this stretch of forest, while holding a seedling high, his index fingers thrown halfway to the stem to show how deep Young trees must be buried in the ground to ensure their survival until spring.

According to government data, more than 444,000 acres of forest in Germany are distressed or have died in recent years. Across the country, Germans are concerned about the survival of their forests, a natural treasure that is considered part of their identity and a source of their wealth.

Then people go to the forest to do what they can do to help save them.

Rangers in Harz National Park said they had repeatedly sought volunteers to help plant new trees since the park was established in 1990. But this year they just needed to advertise.

"We have many queries from people who need to do something to help the forest," said Eggert, the ranger.

Jörg Berthold, one of the volunteers, drove up the dozen others who participated in the reforestation effort of the day. "At times like this, you have to help him," said Berthold, who said he had responded to an ad posted on the national park's website to get help rejuvenating the forest. "It has become the great popular public sport around here: planting trees."

In the last weeks of the fall planting season, school classes were presented, employees of a nearby Volkswagen plant and members of sports clubs, sometimes exceeding the number of seedlings available.

A woman who identified herself as Jezz, a businesswoman from the nearby city of Wernigerode, said that this year she was helping local forests instead of traveling the world. "We are planting trees instead of flying in airplanes," he said.

In the 1980s, he fears that the German the forests were dying from acid rain, when the word "Waldsterben,quot; or "forest death,quot; was coined, provoked widespread protests and galvanized the popularity of the incipient Green party. Although laws to curb toxic emissions eventually led to a decrease in pollutants and forest recovery, that period left its mark on the trees that survived.