German Forestry

german forestry

Now, the time has come to have a look at German forestry. In a series of articles, we have described Swedish forestry. Even though Sweden and Germany are neighbors in northern Europe, the differences when it comes to forestry is quite big.

German forestry history

Already in 1713 did Hans Carl von Carlowitz, in his book “Sylvicultura oeconomica”, create the principal for sustainable forestry in Germany. During the 17th century, the German forests had been decreasing due to the high need for wood for society. He stated that the volumes that were cut, must not be more than what´s growing. 300 years later this principle is still the foundation of the German Forestry Act.

My impressions of Germany

I have spent a lot of time in Germany. It started in the early 90’s when I went down from Sweden as a harvester- and forwarder operator to work with windthrow after the devastating storms back then. Then, in 1990 and before the storms that year, there were not many harvesters operating in Germany.

For many Swedish logging contractors, the German storms was a lucky coincidence. In Sweden at the time, the jobs were disappearing due to a current recession. Many contractors struggled for their survival and were thankful when they were invited to Germany to work. It actually saved many small Swedish logging companies.

I had never been outside Scandinavia at this time. But it didn´t take long for me to discover that the similarities were more than the differences between the two countries in general. But as for forestry – many of us Swedes had the feeling that we had come back to the 60’s.

Little did we know that this was the start of a machine revolution in German forestry. I would get the opportunity to follow that development in the coming years after that, as I have had contact with German forestry ever since.

german forestry
Northern Europe.

Some basic facts about the German forests

The forest land in Germany:

Total land area:                  35,7 million hectares

Forest land area:                11,4 million hectares

Share of the total area:      32 %


Conifer:                              56 %

Hardwood:                         44 %

Mixed forests increase

Total volume of wood:       3,8 billion cbm

Annual growth in total:      128 million cbm

Annual cut:                         Approximately 80 % of the growth

Spruce, pine, beech and oak are the most common species.

Who owns the forest land?

48 % private owned

29 % owned by the states (Bundesländer)

19 % Churches, cities and communities (Körperschaft)

4 % State owned (Germany)

Half of the private owned forests are smaller than 20 hectares.

13 % of the private forests are larger than 1 000 hectares.

Germany – a tree garden

During the 90’s I also studied and became a Swedish forester. That meant I learned how to manage the “industrial” forests of Sweden. The Swedish forest should contain spruce and pine trees that are not too thick and not too thin so that they fit into the logistic chain in the Swedish forest industries. That is something like; saw logs maximum 38 cm diameter and pulpwood maximum 70 cm.

Once I was guided by a German forester in “his” forest. He proudly showed me 200-year-old oak and pine stands. As we stopped to have a closer look at one of the huge pine trees he said: “This one we can take in about 100 years”.

I was stunned. I thought it was like managing a garden or a park. He knew all the most valuable trees in his district by heart and he cared about them as if they were his children. He cared about trees that even his grandchildren won´t profit from. At this point, I realized how big the difference in German and Swedish forestry really is. In Sweden, you don´t notice a single tree if it´s not extremely special. You only see the stands.

Spruce plantation under the oaks

The same forester showed me a stand with 200+-years-old oaks. The main stems were spaced over 20 meters apart from each other. Underneath it, they had planted Norwegian spruce.

The spruce stand under the oak stand had two purposes; To give the oak stems some shade to prevent stem shots growing out from the oak stems, and to gain some profit during the time it took for the oaks to be ready to cut.

As old oak trees are very sensitive for competition, the spruces had to be cut just before their tops reached the crowns of the oaks.

No clear cuts

Maybe the most obvious difference between German and Swedish forestry is that clear-cutting is more or less forbidden in Germany. They have continuous forestry where the new stand is well underway at the time the last trees in the old stand are cut down.

Nevertheless, planting is the most common method for reforestation.

For the moment, exceptions are made from clear cut regulations due to the current bark beetle situation. You can read more about the bark beetle calamity in Europe here.

The revolution

As mentioned above the fatal storms in 1990 brought many machines from Sweden and Finland to Germany. This also opened the market for the Swedish and Finnish machine manufacturers in Germany. Many years following Germany was a very important market for the manufacturers.

german forestry
One of the machines I operated in Germany in 1991.
Photo: Per Jonsson

Today, the Nordic machine systems are dominating the German forests. The Germans have, however, managed to combine modern methods with their own forestry principals. It´s, as for an example, common that the Nordic machines are modified by the Germans to suit their conditions better. More on that in the article German forestry machines.

German machines

Germany has always been good machine builders. They have good cars, trucks, construction equipment, sawmilling machinery, etc. I used to ask myself: When will they beat us (Sweden) in logging equipment? In the 90’s, I thought that was just a matter of time. But so far, that hasn´t happened. Why? I think the simple answer is the fact that the market for forest machines for CTL (Cut-to-length) is too small. It isn´t worth the effort to take the battle with the Swedes and the Finns on this.

There are a couple of German forest machine manufacturers, like HSM and FHS, who build CTL machines. But if you ask me they are no major threat for the Nordic manufacturers.

Wood buyers

Most of the wood that comes from the forest stays in Germany. The largest user of wood is the German sawmills. They use approximately 35 million cbm saw logs, mainly conifer, per year.

Paper, veneer, parquet, board and packaging industries are important industries. Also, the manufacturing of furniture, interior and houses is a big business in Germany.


A lot has happened in the German forests since 1990. Compared to Sweden, the technology in Germany used back then was “stone age”. Today, however, the Germans have caught up and, in some cases, passed the Swedes. They, as for an example, invented ways to use machines intended for clear cuts in a continuous forestry without clear cuts.

My impression is that German forestry has come further than Sweden when it comes to breaking old traditions by using new technology. Swedish forestry is still run very traditionally. Anyone with new ideas has to struggle.


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