Spruce elegy

An article in the local newspaper had reminded me of several things that are obvious, yet people are still blind to them. Climate is changing – and maybe way too much. And there’s no better proof than the spruce forests – what’s left of them, anyway.

It’s hard to use just my memory to say when it all started. Some would say 2012, some would say 2015 – both were extremely hot and dry years. In fact, when I look at my hiking photos, it feels like it’s as warm in May in 2010s as it was in summer in late 1990s.

So, what’s the problem? Short version: Spruces have a shallow root system, which makes them vulnerable to droughts – which are repeating over and over since 2012 (maybe 2014 was an exception?). Lack of moisture means lack of sap, the only natural defense against bark beetle. These buggers then further weaken the trees, aided by industrial pollution. The result is that any slightly stronger wind will either uproot or outright break the dry and brittle trees. I think there wasn’t a year since 2012 when a vast swath of forest wasn’t leveled down by the wind.

Photo from March 2018

This is how most of the spruce forests look like these days. What remains standing are the other conifers – larches or pines – that somehow grew between them. Young spruces are still standing, though for how long, that’s hard to guess.

Photo from April 2018

Some places (foothills of the Slovakian Vysoké Tatry mountains) were hit several times over (the most in 2004 and 2014). It’s close to impossible to go hiking without the ever-present sound of chainsaws cutting thousands of diseased trees to pieces to be taken away.

Vysoké Tatry, Slovakia – Photo from summer 2017

What damage can an hour of harsh wind cause takes sometimes over two years to clean up – and will take decades to recover. Without spruces, this time, as they won’t be planted anymore in controlled forestry. More resilient trees will take their place but it’ll take decades before these places are at least remotely resembling a forest again.

For someone who likes to walk in a tree’s shade for both relaxation and inspiration, it’s hard to not feel sad by what’s going on. Anyway, I’ll wrap it up now. The next time, I’ll be back with some more usual post.

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