- 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
- 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
- But for the half a million people in France whose jobs
depend on the forestry business, the storms present a direct threat to
- 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
- 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
- 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.