Last year’s infestation of bark beetles was said to have been the biggest to hit Czech forests in 200 years. This year could prove even worse. Among those hard hit is Krkonoše National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve site. Park officials estimate 20 percent more trees will need to be felled in the battle against the relentless bug.
Since early this summer, troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides have joined the ranks of environmentally minded volunteers looking to save the nation’s embattled coniferous forests. Among them is Vojtěch Káně, a teenage scout from a troop in Stará Boleslav, a two-hour bus ride south.
“We’ve been given a debarking tool. It’s basically a knife on a long pole. I haven’t been doing it long, but I think it is going fine. … This is a wonderful opportunity to experience Krkonoše National Park in a completely different way. At the same time, the scouts’ motto is: ‘Ready to serve!’ So, this is a good way to fulfil that pledge.”
Bark beetles can play an important role in forest ecology, for example, by hastening the decomposition of dead and dying wood and thereby renewing the forest. But some species also attack healthy trees, and depriving them of nesting grounds is key in keeping the bark beetles’ numbers down.
Working alongside and guiding the young volunteers is Krkonoše National Park forester Tomáš Valer, a veteran of many battles in a losing war against the ravenous bark beetle.
“These young people are definitely a big help. There really aren’t so many forestry workers. So, every pair of hands is welcome here. Especially now, when the peeling, the debarking, has to be done.”
Spruce trees – which make up more than half of all Czech woodland – are most at risk from bark beetles. They have tended to be planted in large monocultures, for the timber industry, exacerbating the problem.
Jaroslav Hütter, a forestry and fish pond manager from České Budějovice in southern Bohemia, says the shrinking numbers of European roe deer, for example, is a worrying sign.
“It signals an emergency. There used to be a tall spruce forest here full of deer. Before the bark beetle calamity, you’d come across all kinds of forest animals regularly. Now, the forest echoes with silence. They’ve lost their natural habitat.”
Back in Krkonoše National Park, officials estimate that up 40,000 cubic meters of wood infested by bark beetles may need to be felled this year, about 20 percent more than in 2018.
In total, half of the country’s spruce trees – some 500,000 hectares of forest – are at risk, according to the Ministry of Environment. Apart from Roe deer, extensive felling of trees negatively impacts other animal species, including hawks and white-tailed eagles.