Since 1992, the Palatinate Forest has borne the label UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Locals & visitors appreciate it in many different and intimate ways. As an ecosystem, it is a valuable resource, but also a place for sports, exploration and quiet retreat. A lovable and livable piece of home, according to Stefan Asam, Director of the Central Office of the Forestry Administration of Rhineland-Palatinate.
"We humans need the forest. It provides us with ecosystem functions that are crucial for our existence. It produces oxygen, stores CO2, provides us with timber and food, stores and cleans drinking water, protects against erosion and filters the air. We also enjoy the cultural aspects of the forest for relaxation, leisure, appreciation of nature, aesthetics and health protection. Especially now, during the coronavirus pandemic, we are experiencing the full extent of the importance of the forest as a place for rest and relaxation. Perhaps never before have so many people have visited the forest!"
Stefan Asam, born in 1965, studied Forest Sciences in Göttingen. In the mid-1990s he moved to the Palatinate region. As district forester of Annweiler am Trifels, he was tasked with looking after the forests in the southern Palatinate region. Since 2019, he has led the state-wide Central Office of Forest Administration in Neustadt an der Weinstraße and particularly enjoys moments of absolute silence in the Palatinate Forest.
What positive associations do you have with the Palatinate Forest?
"For me, the Palatinate Forest is primarily a charming and liveable habitat. Aside from my professional duties relating to the Palatinate Forest, the almost endless expanse of this woodland is a very important place for me personally. It is a place of rest and relaxation, a place for slowing down as well as for physical activity. There is something new to discover every time you immerse yourself in the depths of the Palatinate Forest. Whether that's imposing rock formations, breathtaking views from the Haardt hills to the Rhine Plain, water courses or the wide array of flora and fauna."
How does the Palatinate Forest differ from other German forest regions?
"Its size and unity are what make the Palatinate Forest special. Broken up by few traffic routes and residential areas, the Palatinate Forest is the largest contiguous forest in Germany, spanning an area of approximately 180,000 hectares. Geologically, it features characteristic red sandstone, making it a unique, diverse natural landscape. The fact that the Palatinate Forest is a very special haven of biodiversity is the result of more than 200 years of responsible, sustainable and near-natural forest management."
What is special about the Palatinate Forest and how can visitors and locals experience this in person?
"Singling out one thing is no easy task for me. The Palatinate Forest is a paradise for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. First and foremost, there is hiking-1,000 km of hiking trails are waiting to be explored, with some excellently signposted premium routes. Climbers will love the peculiar rocks in Wasgau and there is also a park for mountain bikers. Both people seeking peace and quiet and adventurous paragliders will find what they are looking for. But it would all be nothing without the warmth and openness of the people. This is evident in the southern flair of the Palatinate combined with the hospitality of good cuisine, whether in one of the many hiking lodges or a wine tavern along the Wine Route."
How can we help to protect the Palatinate Forest?
"Every individual can help to protect the climate and therefore the forest, and ought to take this opportunity. We are all called upon to examine our lifestyle, our consumption patterns and our eating habits. And this also means ensuring that we are mindful and show consideration for nature and one another on every visit to the forest. This also includes- quite simply-taking your own rubbish away with you!"
Let's talk about climate change. What effect is it having on the forest?
"Three successive years of heat and drought have made the force and now uncontrollable speed of man-made climate change affecting the forest drastically clear to us. Extreme weather, mass propagation of harmful organisms and the migration and dissemination of new adversaries endanger the trees and the connected symbiotic communities. As a diverse, mixed forest, the Palatinate Forest is in a comparatively good position for mastering the challenges of the future. That being said, we are currently particularly concerned about our local beech and pine trees, which are severely weakened and some of which are dying off. In total, over 80 percent of all trees are damaged at present. In short, the forest is in respiratory distress and urgently needs our help."
What can we as a society do to help the forest adapt to the changing climate?
"The major challenge is to preserve the forests in the first place, beyond that it is then to manage the forests that can withstand climate change. Tree species such as spruce will disappear, other tree species better suited to the warm, dry conditions such as oak or chestnut trees will be better able to establish themselves. If we are not successful in finally taking effective action to counteract climate change as a society, then we will be fighting a losing battle."