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Human dimensions of natural disturbances in forest eco-systems: The social impact of bark beetle infestations in Bavarian Forest National Park

abstract Over the past 20 years Bavarian Forest National Park has witnessed sustained spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus and Pityogenes chalcographus) activity due to beetle management restrictions on the park's territory. By 2006 the area of beetle-kill stands amounted to more than 4,500 hectares (ha) or one-sixth of the park's total area. Both different ecological conditions and the park's zoning policy have resulted in major regional imbalances of forest damage. The mountain vegetation zone above 1,100 m in the southern part of the park is most severely affected with a tree mortality of over 90%, whereas the northern part, which was added in a recent enlargement of the park, and stands at lower altitudes have suffered considerably less.

Adamant local resistance in response to the national park's management policy sparked the formation of political advocacy groups which have been successful in keeping the beetle issue high on the local and regional agenda. When the territory of the national park was expanded northward at the height of a beetle outbreak in 1997, plans to extend the core, i.e. no-beetle-management, zone were met with such fierce public resistance that they ground to an indefinite halt. The effects of beetle activity have thus prompted significant local opposition not only to the park's nature conservation strategies but also to the existence of the park in general.

The perceived major impacts of the bark beetle outbreak on communities neighbouring the national park are threefold: First, beetles are said to have spread from the national park forests to privately-owned land, causing economic loss through beetle-kill timber. Second, beetle activity is perceived to have led to a significant loss of aesthetic appeal in a landscape which was originally completely covered by spruce forests. Third, as a consequence of the loss of aesthetic appeal tourist numbers are expected to decline as tourists are put off by the barren landscape.

Our project takes issue with the last two propositions: first, it examines the interrelationship between the effects of spruce bark beetle activity and tourism in Bavarian Forest National Park. Since the purported negative effects of large-scale beetle-kill stands on tourism are one of the major factors in resistance to the national park, understanding tourists' attitudes can help to build up local acceptance either by invalidating such claims or by providing clues for future beetle management strategies which take into account the tourist perspective. Second, it discusses the visuality of the bark beetle phenomenon and how radical visual changes in the landscape are linked to local identity and mobilized in the political struggle over the existence of the national park and its zoning and management policies.
   
keywords bark beetle, natural disturbance, protected areas
   
partner
type applied research project
status completed
start of project 2007
end of project 2008
additional informations
topics bark beetle, natural disturbance, protected areas
methods survey, media analysis
contact Martin Mueller