Storms disaster for timber markets - UN

Storms in Europe have caused widespread damage to forests. This article seems to suggest the timber trade is more important than the forests themselves.

GENEVA - The storms that have ravaged western Europe and left a huge trail of fallen trees over the past week could have a disastrous effect on timber markets, a United Nations economic body said. 

In a survey of the effects of the storms which ripped through forests in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany, the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) said it could take years before the markets returned to stability.

"The tempests will have disastrous effects not only the forests but also on the timber markets, as well as wildlife," said Edward Pepke, the Geneva-based ECE's Forest Officer.

And after-effects, he added, could be even more dangerous, with risk of insect infectation of fallen trees which could spread to others still standing, and further harm forests.

Apart from the normal timber market, the ECE said, the market for recycled fibre was also likely to be depressed by a sudden surplus of supplies since wind-felled trees were often unsuitable for use in the construction or furniture industries.  The U.N. agency said the magnitude of the forest damage across the region could not yet be assessed as many mountain forests were still inaccessible, partly due to heavy snowfalls over the past two days.

But early reports indicated record levels of damage, it said.

In Switzerland, the government's environmental bureau says that some 8.4 million cubic metres of timber was felled by the gales of December 26 and 28, which in France have led to the declaration of a state of emergency over much of the country.

This figure, representing two years of normal timber harvest, is twice that of trees brought down in the last big storms to hit the country, in 1990.

Already fragile markets for forest products were struggling for balance between supply and demand before the storms, and the surplus roundwood now available could seriously destabilise them, especially in Europe, the ECE said.

Pepke said the precedent of the 1990 storms, whose effects lasted for two to three years, indicated that it would be years before forests and timber markets were healthy again.

Although some dead and dying trees were normally left in forests to provide nesting sites for birds and animals, the vast numbers now littering forests across Europe could provide a dangerous source of infection for those that survived.

Therefore many of the felled trunks would have to be removed as soon as possible, but this could only be done when soils were hard enough to support heavy clearing and cutting equipment.

After the gales nine years ago, the ECE report said, Germany kept stocks of logs in forests to reduce the immediate effects of over-supply. But still prices of roundwood plummeted and forest managers were left in financial difficulties.

This time too, it added, governments would be called in to help finance forestry operations.

Source: Reuters, January 4, 2000