300 Million Trees Downed
In French Storms -
'A Catastrophe'
PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - The two storms which devastated France last week destroyed about 300 million trees, the National Forestry Office (ONF) said Tuesday. "It is a catastrophe without precedent," said the ONF's technical director Jacques Trouvilliez.
Across the country, vast swathes of woodland have been smashed or uprooted -- from the orchards of Normandy to the great parks of Paris to the vast plantations in the northeast.
In the Vosges mountains, 35 percent of public forestry has been destroyed, and aerial pictures show huge areas of pine-trees laid out like corn, a few bare trunks bearing witness to the vanished landscape.
In the grounds of the palace of Versailles, 10,000 trees have been uprooted, including two 200 year-old cedars, totally transforming the vista created by Louis XIV's gardener Le Notre.
And at the arboretum of the Natural History Museum outside Paris, the winds felled ten percent of the trees, which have been collected there over generations from all corners of the world. "It's back to square one; 40 years have been lost. Some of these trees we will never be able to replace," said Yves-Marie Allain, director of cultivation.
The impact for many is a highly emotional one, with the disappearance of a well-loved old oak or a line of poplars down a country road.
But for the half a million people in France whose jobs depend on the forestry business, the storms present a direct threat to their livelihood.
The immediate concern is a sudden fall in the price of wood, as the estimated 110 million cubic metres are sawn up. "If a tree has been uprooted, it is not so serious," explained Sylvie Benda Alvarez, of the ONF economy department. "The wood is undamaged and it can be stored for maybe a year in water.
"The real problem is where trees have been smashed, because the wood is unusable for building, and goes for pulp or wood-fibre.
"A good oak will normally get you 800 francs (120 euros, dollars) per square metre. If it is damaged, it will get perhaps 35 francs (5.5 euros, dollars)."
Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany visited the worst hit area, Lorraine in the northeast, on Monday and said an aid package would be announced.
The government will also co-ordinate with producers to make sure as much of possible of the wood is kept off the market, and released gradually to ensure price stability.
Forestry experts have said it will take up to 100 years to re-establish the destroyed woodland, and the emphasis will be where possible on letting forests regenerate naturally. "We know that the more diverse a forest the better it can withstand violent storms like last week's," said Benda Alvarez. "So unless a forest has been totally massacred, we won't replant - just let the various seeds germinate themselves."
The importance of diversity of forestry is one lesson being drawn. Another is that younger trees appear to be weaker than older ones.
Experts say trees are growing much more rapidly today than 100 years ago, thanks to greater quantities of carbon di-oxide in the atmosphere, with the result that they are ganglier and weaker.
One side-benefit is that younger trees replacing the destroyed parts of the forest will consume more greenhouse gases, thus helping the fight against pollution.
The sheer scale of the disaster to France's woodland was spelt out by historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie.
Looking back in the Figaro newspaper over official forestry records going back to the early 17th century, he said no similar catastophe has ever been mentioned. "The forests were extremely closely inspected because of their importance for the navy, but ... since 1660 there is no mention of a macro-phenomenon on this immense scale," he said.


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