Row erupts over German forest health

Agriculture ministry claims improving tree health, attacked by environmentalists

Continuing tensions in Germany over the health of the nation's forests erupted again last week, with the approval by the federal government of the 1997 report on forest health. First published in September, the report shows improving forest condition in the 1990's, with a "slightly positive development" this year "in some types of trees," the German agriculture ministry said. In comparison with 1995 levels, serious damage was down nationally from 25% to 20%, while moderate damage was down from 29% in 1991 to 12% in 1997. Particularly striking, according to the ministry, was a drop in moderate damage in the eastern states from 36% in 1990, when the first comparable figures were collected, to 17% now - the same level as found in north-western German states. Environmental group Robin Wood, which campaigns on forestry issues, accused the ministry of modifying the statistics to reduce apparent tree damage and of failing to "see the ecosystem 'wood' for the trees". Almost 80% of German forest soils were "over-contaminated" and just under 60% of forest trees are moderately damaged, it claimed. "Instead of taking action the debate has gone on for over a year as to how many leaves a tree has to lose before it is classified as diseased," the group said.

Follow Up:
German agriculture ministry, tel: +49 228 529 3707; Robin Wood, tel: +49 421 598 288.

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