Nazi Influence on German-Forest Administration
The topic chosen for this paper, “Nazi Influence on German Forest Administration,” may seem an unsuitable subject for a paper to a Royal Society Congress and a far cry from New Zealand forestry. It is, however, hoped, by describing some of the major Nazi administrative moves, to show how the development and use of forests in a nation may, as it were, change over night. Written forest history has shown repeatedly that the major effects on the forests of the world have been wrought administratively. It is of little avail for the forester to be a master of his profession, to know the correct silvicultural treatment for his forests, unless he is assured that he has a long-term control of his areas and wood-cut. German forest administration has a long written history. It has passed through many well-recognised phases and under it German forests have recently attained an overall degree of perfection reached by no other country. Next to agriculture, they are the most important factor in German economy. In the short space of a few years the Nazi regime, realizing the importance of wood as a raw material for war, undermined the sound work of past administration. It introduced a system of wood-cut which threatened the future of German forests. In so far as German long-term forest administration for a time succeeded and then failed, the salient points are worthy of analysis. They are of particular interest to New Zealand, which, for the decade past and the one or two decades to come, is at the crossroads of her forestry. Like other countries settled in recent centuries by white people under a laissez faire economy she has come close to the end of her major indigenous timber stands. Administration has been unable to withstand the demands of unorganized land settlement and wood utilization. The disappearance of major stands of kahikatea (Podocarpus dacrydioides) and the recent wranglings over the last remaining kauri (Agathis australis) will be followed soon enough by the end of our major timber, rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum). In addition, we are faced with a national erosion problem which for some time to come is likely to increase rather than diminish. The Dominion is fortunate in having ready to take the place of indigenous timber stands extensive areas of fast-growing exotic species. approaching sawmill size. Almost without exception these plantations have received no intensive silvicultural treatment and produce timber of low quality. The test is, can New Zealand adopt a long-term administration of such a nature as to allow the introduction of sound forestry and production of high quality timber into these exotic plantations. The tenets of sound forest practice built up on an empirical basis over centuries in Europe and added to by the advance of the biological sciences over the past century are reasonably well known.
C. M. Smith(1) in his paper in this series, “Forest Administration Down. the Ages,” has outlined the successive phases in the general historical development of forest administration. They are all to be followed in German forest history(2) and each stage has left its mark on the forests and forestry practice as seen to-day. The building-up of her present forests dates variously from wood—mainly firewood—famine days of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This famine was localised around population centres, it is true, but was sufficiently severe for the practice of forest usage in common to be changed to private ownership in land in the hope that this would lead to better management. Matters scarcely improved, so that the phase of public administration of forests in the form of regulations concerning the cutting and felling of wood soon followed. These regulations have increased and, together with some State and city ownership of forests, have laid the foundation to ensuring adequate supplies of wood. As early as the fourteenth century expansion of certain forest areas by planting or seeding is recorded and in the fifteenth century the first glimmerings of silviculture and forest management appeared. One reads of seed trees and felling-areas—the latter indicating the beginning of Germany's basic forest management, normal age-class distribution. In general, poor forest conditions and wood scarcity nevertheless remained to well on in the eighteenth century. By this time better forestry practices were becoming established. Individual states possessed state forests, where, under the guidance of trained foresters some forest management was practised. The government regulated fellings in private forests and had some control over communal forests. During the nineteenth and throughout this century a general building-up and extension of forests,
especially of State forests, took place. Working plans were drawn up for all State forests and most of the larger private forests. To-day we find that in all these forests the age-class distribution approximates normality.
While there have been for a considerable time State regulations limiting cut and preventing the conversion of forest land, individual forests have remained largely independent of other State regulation. Owners of large private forests and she forest officials of State forests have been free to develop. the system, of forestry they considered best for the district. They have made their own choice of species, been free to grow their own nursery stock and to adopt what silvicultural system they thought best. Above all, they have had control of the axe and could therefore practise silviculture to good effect. Faced with a great demand for all sizes of wood, the forester has been able to practise intensive thinning. The thinning maxim, “often and light,” so well known to foresters has. been profitably applied. Only in Prussia was the central administration more powerful in directing overall forestry operations, though even here administration was concerned mainly with staff and education matters. A large amount of uniformity was however introduced throughout Germany by the employment of professionally trained foresters who received the same status and service conditions throughout State or private forests.
The culmination of this individual forest development with an overall restriction of cutting has been the creation of sustained-yield forestry in some two-thirds of Germany's forests and an approximation to this over the remainder. The German forester has a much more intricate term of course, and in this case justifiably so: his “Nachhaltigkeit,” which Dengler defines in a full page of text, means the maintenance or improvement of the forest soil as well as the practice of sustained-yield forestry. Though in some cases he has gone astray during the past century in maintaining his forest soil fertility he has nevertheless succeeded in obtaining a substantial overall increase per hectar in wood yield. He is undoubtedly more addicted to the mathematical side of forestry than to the biological. A German forester invariably carries his volume tables in his pocket, and the site quality cannot in his mind be anything other than that shown by the height growth of his trees. In coniferous forests his basis of management is normal age-class distribution with clear felling. It is here that he can be most criticized as departing too far from biological methods.
Hand in hand with the sustained yield of individual forests have grown up wood-using industries depending upon the continuous flow of material. Thus a large private owner might have a sawmill of his own and possibly support one or two other sawmills around the boundary of his forest. He would have his regular pulp and pit-wood dealers and would keep the surrounding villages supplied with firewood. His foresters, since they controlled the axe, would meet these diversified supplies by making full use of the whole tree. For instance, the unsound butt of a spruce tree might be cut off for pulp-wood, the next lengths would go to the sawmill, the top length would make pit-props, and the lop and top collected as firewood. This division might be done in the forest or the whole tree might be sold to a wood-dealer and the division carried out at the sawmill.
The forester's task ended with the sale of his wood. Nevertheless, because of the close natural link between forest and wood-use he took a lively interest in the wood-using industries. The German Forestry Association (Der deutsche Forstverein) developed a technical committee in 1926 to assist in the designing of forest equipment and to explore new avenues of wood-use.
This highly desirable state of forest practice prior to the Nazi influence had resulted mainly from the past century and a-half of long-term forest administration. The doctrines of limited State ownership of forests, of loose State control of forest tenure and of limited maximum annual cutting held sway. German forests, almost entirely high forest, covered 28 per cent. of a densely populated country. They were highly productive for her quality of forest soil. Normal age-class distribution and sustained annual yield formed the basis of management. Forests were largely under working-plan management and were so well known that it was possible to estimate a sustained annual yield for the whole country. The percentage of the annual cut used in the different wood-using industries was also well known. The forest personnel of all grades, including forest labour, was highly trained and efficient and had control of the axe. Stabilised wood-using industries were dependent upon the sustained annual yield of the forest.
Into this almost Utopian forestry system the Nazi central administration of super-planners stepped with great efficiency. Egon Glesinger, formerly secretary to the Comite International du Bois, has given us in his book, “Nazis in the Woodpile”(3) a racy description of their plottings to control Europe's timber supply. This plotting did not end with other countries. but included their own forests. Under Hermann Goering as Reichforsund Jaegermeister, the planners set to work with considerable skill and ingenuity. They drew around them clever young foresters who were willing to seek faster promotion than they would other-wise have obtained in a stabilized forest service.
The first step was to set up a division (Forst und Holz Wirtschaftsamt) of the Reichforstamt with executive power to organise and handle the wood-cut and wood industries for Germany as a whole. The first planning of this branch was to collect from forest owners, including State forests, throughohut Germany their proposed cuts in quantities and grades of wood for the ensuing twelve months. For forests under working-plan management, which comprised the bulk of German forests, the proposed cut was invariably given as the sustained annual yield, and for other forests State officials assisted the owner to estimate an annual yield. The central department combined all these figures and then adjusted the totals according to central planning for the coming year: for example, if increased coal production was planned, then the figure for the pitwood cut was increased accordingly and so on. The adjusted totals were broken down once again to the individual forest owners and issued to them as their actual felling target for the coming forestry year. The simple act of issuing this target (Umlage) undermined the foundation of German forestry. It deprived the forester of control of the axe by which means sustained-yield forestry had been built up. Now his cut was determined for him. In other words, it was the prostituting of forestry to the use of forests for national planning, in this case for war purposes, and the subordination of silviculture to utilisation. To be sure, the Nazis, as they became more deeply involved in war preparation, increased their target year by year until the 1944 target was estimated to be 150 per cent. of the total annual yield of German forests. A number of factors operated to prevent this cut. Nevertheless, the high cut over a period of years was sufficient to have an effect upon silviculture. Foresters displayed considerable skill in obtaining the extra requirements by heavy thinning. Where this was not possible, clear felling had to be carried out and the age-class distribution thereby upset to the extent that felling was above normal. The most deleterious effects, however, occurred in forests regenerated naturally, more particularly in beech (Fagus sylvatica L.), forests which in Germany are worked almost without exception by the shelterwood system. Any overfelling in these meant interference with the regeneration period—usually thirty years—during which the opening of the forest has to be controlled as regards seed years and preparation of the forest floor by letting in light.
It was of little avail cutting extra wood unless the trade machinery was at the same time created to cope with it. The central department therefore made it compulsory for all wood-using industries to belong to trade associations, one for pitwood, one for pulpwood, one for sawmills and so on. These associations were controlled centrally by a body of officials known as Gruppe. The figures of the felling targets were issued to the associations by the Gruppe, who had then to arrange with their member firms the allocation. The associations and firms then arranged with the foresters as to where the wood was to be collected. Instead of the smooth relations which previously existed between foresters and wood-using industries a considerable amount of friction now arose. Foresters were frequently accused, probably with justification, of not supplying the allotted wood. It was the return of the old feud between the forester who cherished the forests he had created and the trader whose ever-present demands were being given rein to.
The ultimate Nazi aim was of course the use of wood as a major material of war. The central administration therefore cast around for all technical information in their drive to increase the use of wood as a substitute material. They found the nucleus of a very useful body in the technical committee of the German Forestry Association. In 1933 this was formed into a society with private rights and in 1940 into a limited shareholding company with only the State holding shares. The society and then the company played leading parts in the development of wood-using processes especially the more recent ones of acid hydrolysis for the production of wood sugar, of the production of hardboard,
and of the production of alpha cellulose for fibres and explosives. When Germany's extensive plywood industry, which had been built up almost entirely on imported logs of African okoume (Aucoumea klaineana Pierre), American Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga taxifelia Brit.), etc., was cut off from this supply the company assisted materially in converting the industry entirely to the use of indigenous beech. The company had power to buy patents and make them free to the use of industry.
Not content with the control of forest produce, the Nazi forest-adminstrative machine took higher aim and thought to control some of the natural laws of the forest itself. They thereby plunged into a recent phase of forest administration involving the application of the findings of biological science. The foundation of much of this is as yet still unknown and in the process of being gradually built up but it did not deter the intrepid young foresters hired to carry out the Reichforstmeister's administration. Foresters the world over have had to learn by bitter experience the importance of seed provenance in artificial afforestation. The German forester has been no exception. To take but one example: in the north of Germany where Pinus sylvestris L. has been planted extensively in sandy glacial drifts, which naturally carry associations of scrub oak (Quercus petraea Lieb) or hornbeam (Carpinus betulus L.) and birch (Betula pubescens Ehrh. and B. pendula Roth.), are many malformed stands which have been established from seed of poor origin. Foresters and scientists have now been studying the matter of seed provenance for a century or more, and have reached the stage of being able to apply some of the knowledge obtained for the improvement of artificially established stands.
German foresters have mapped regions for Pinus sylvestris, spruce (Picea abies Karst) and larch (Larix decidua Mill) which carry distinct races of these trees. Within the regions they have located elite stands from which foresters endeavour to obtain their stock seed for use within that district. A comparable but much more highly developed practice is of course used by agriculturalists and horticulturalists in obtaining seed for commercial crops. It was not only the foresters who obtained seed from these elite stands: with greater speed of transporting living material and the initiation of extensive reafforestation in North Germany, forest tree nurserymen whose business it was solely to raise forest-planting stock had come into being. These businesses obtained their share of elite seed.
Baldwin(5) writes: “No phase of the study of forest seeds presents such intrieacies, nor holds such voluminous literature as the problem of the influence of the origin of the seed on the subsequent development of the plants grown therefrom.” Nevertheless, to the planners here was a piece of biological science which could produce results in the form of increased wood yields. The first step of Nazi administration to organise this was the introduction in 1934 of a law of “forest species”(6) which aimed “to secure the preservation and subsequent culture of the most valuable heritage of the German forests as well as the rejection of inferior stands.” (Zur Sicherung deu Erhlatung und Nachzucht hochwertigen Erbgutes des deutschen Waldes sowie zur Ausmerzung rassiach minderwertiger Bestände …). Under this law forest owners or administrators were authorised to convert within a period to be arranged all unthrifty stands to stands derived from elite seed. From a date to be fixed all afforestation thenceforth was to be derived from elite seed. All extraordinary expenses involved in the change-over were to be indemnified and penalties were to be imposed on persons not complying with the law. Subsequent amendments to this law were issued and a special amendment dealt with the collection of larch seed. The whole was consolidated into a law of 1938 to which are attached samples of no less than seventeen different forms to be used during various aspects of the control, thus showing to what extent officialdom had laid a stranglehold on the simple business of using elite seed.
By the time of the appearance of the consolidated law the forest-seed extraction plants, run by private enterprise under State licence, and the forest-tree nurseries had got themselves well enough organised to form a partial monopoly of elite seed. They were organised into a trade association with a president-elect, and what is known as a Gruppe, on the equivalent of a body of central officials directing the association; i.e., complete State control. In this case the president of the association and the executive head of the Gruppe were one and the same person.
Under this organisation the association had expanded a concentration of forest-tree nurseries at Halstenbek, Hamburg, into the largest area of forest-tree nurseries in the world: Here some 850 separate businesses held some 3,000 acres of forest-tree nurseries. They grew and distributed trees for the whole of Germany and had a considerable export trade to surrounding countries. Many foresters disliked this system, maintaining that the trees grown by this largescale method were not as good or as suitable as their own growing. The method of working the nurseries was certainly along large-scale commercial production and lacked the individual care and attention which a forester raising stock for his own purposes would give.
The examples given, control and distribution of the wood-cut and control of seed provenance will be sufficient to show the sweeping administrative changes introduced by the Nazi regime; the first undermining sound forest practice and the second likely to produce doubtful results. Further changes, sweeping and otherwise, were introduced for land tenure, price fixation of wood, etc. Forestry and timber offices, directed from Berlin, and for the most part not corresponding with existing State offices, were set up throughout Germany to handle this new administration. The system was of course activated by Nazi ideology introducing Mr. C. M. Smith's last phase of forest administration—modern sociological ideas and methods. Few or none of the changes took cognisance of the forest as a natural growing crop with species still in the process of undergoing domestication and requiring prescriptions of management built upon past experience.
1. Smith, C. M., 1947. Forest Administration Down the Ages. Sixth Science Congress, Royal Society of New Zealand, Wellington.
2. Ferno, Bernhard E., 1907. History of Forestry. University Press, Toronto, p. 438.
3. Glesinger, Egon, 1942. Nazis in the Woodpile. Bobbs Merrill, N.Y.
4. Heske, Franz, 1938. German Forestry. Yale University Press, New Haven, p. 432.
5. Baldwin, H. I., 1942. Forest Tree Seed of the North Temperate Regions. Chronica Botanica Co., Waltham, Mass., p. 239.
6. Reichverband der Forstsamen und Forstpflangenbetriebe (1942). Die forstliche Rassegestygebung des deutschen Reiches, p. 52.