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Germans see the forest for the trees

Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2002

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) -- The differences between German and American forestry are a matter of scale.

''You can drive half an hour through a forest in Germany and you have the next village,'' says Norbert Trapp, a German forestry graduate on exchange in Idaho.

''In America you can drive and drive because the forests are so huge.''

''I think the scale thing really blew their minds,'' says Gary Manning, silviculturist and timber management assistant in the Palouse Ranger District, where Trapp worked.

''They do things differently in Germany. It is much more intensive ... they are almost managing each individual tree.''

Manning supervised Trapp, 29, and Carsten Friedrich, 25, both on exchange from Germany, for three weeks while they were in the Palouse Ranger District near Potlatch, Idaho.

Friedrich and Trapp also spent two weeks on exchange at the Powell Ranger District, 12 miles west of Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana border.

The two came to Idaho after Trapp met Dennis Phillips and his wife, Cynthia Johnson Phillips, of Lewiston at a wedding in Germany.

Trapp, a recent forestry graduate, expressed an interest in learning about forests in America, and Phillips decided to help.

He enlisted his friend Doug Gochnour, a Clearwater National Forest administrator, who helped Trapp and his friend obtain visas and planned five weeks of internships in two of the Clearwater National Forest ranger districts.

''They wanted to experience everything they could in the West,'' Phillips said.

So he and Cynthia took their two guests to a powwow, a rodeo and on road trips to Missoula, Mont., Salt Lake City and Coeur d' Alene, Idaho, as well as Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah.

But there also was work to be done.

Trapp and Friedrich's internship concentrated on timber management and forest recreation.

They kept busy doing reforestation projects, trail and campground maintenance, surveying roads and preparing for timber sales.

While at the Palouse district, they helped prepare a timber sale by cruising the forest to determine the volume of wood a particular area would yield and marking trees that were to be left or sold.

Timber managers in Germany and America both make long-term plans for their forests.

''In Germany we try to continue our forests using sustainable development,'' Friedrich says. ''We use no more than what will grow back in 10 years. In fact we use less than what will grow back.''

The U.S. Forest Service works on 15-year plans. But the plans are seldom fully implemented, Gochnour says.

''It's a 15-year plan; however, circumstances are constantly changing and we've never been able to implement all of the plan.

''Typically, German forests are much more intensively managed,'' Gochnour says.

''It's very precise. They know about what is going on in every acre.''

That kind of management would be impossible in the Clearwater National Forest, which covers 1.8 million acres, Gochnour says.

Trapp says comparing forestry in the two countries may be impossible with so many variables.

''Germany has 80 million inhabitants and is 15 percent bigger than Idaho,'' Trapp says. ''We use our forests more intensively both in forestry or recreation.''

About 30 percent of Germany is forest land, Trapp says.

Germany also has managed its forests for a longer period of time.

''We're managing these forests often times for the first time,'' Manning says. ''Many of the forest stands they are working on are on their third rotation. Their history of forestry goes back much further.''

Acid rain and other environmental concerns in Europe also create different management practices.

''Another thing they are dealing with is countering the effects of air pollution,'' Manning says.

He said that in Germany, trees are protected from the effects of acid rain and pollution by using special fertilizers.

Clearcutting is a point where German and American forestry diverge.

''We don't make clearcuts,'' Friedrich says, ''only single tree selection.''

The largest area that can be clearcut in Germany is 1 hectare, or about 2.5 acres.

Friedrich says some erosion and noxious weed problems can be avoided by not clearcutting, but one system is not necessarily better than the other.

''I don't think one can compare this,'' Friedrich says.

''The forest sections are so small (in Germany) and it is simply not possible to clearcut. In the United States the sections are larger.''

Forest fires are not as prevalent in Germany, in part because there are more deciduous trees like beech and alder in German forests. These trees do not burn as readily as evergreens.

But not all the comparisons by the Germans are about forestry. The differences in American and German beer had to be explored as well.

Friedrich and Trapp joined co-workers from the Palouse district at the Silver Saddle, a bar in Potlatch, for steak and seafood night and a couple of cold ones.

''American beer isn't so bad,'' Friedrich says. ''You have many good beers.'' After a pause he adds, ''and many not so good beers.''

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