That may well be. For one thing, Diethard Altrogge of the Higher Forest Authority in Münster said that the figures were “thrown together under time pressure” and that, additionally, the data was gathered by staff members who were not adequately trained to recognize “creeping early damage” (the Hessian state government). According to the records of the Ertl ministry*, the damage at the time was already being estimated internally as “probably far greater.” Also, given the speed at which the damage is spreading, Bonn’s official figures represent merely “the tip of the iceberg” (Altrogge).
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Whereas fir tree death is limited to Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, since this species rarely grows in other federal states, spruce trees and even beech (which are considered very robust), and oak trees, too, are ailing in both northern and southern Germany. In many places, maple, mountain ash, and linden trees, as well as blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry bushes are dying.
The catastrophe can no longer be played down. According to a recently published critical assessment, after “prolonged attempts at denial, appeasement, and downplaying,” politicians responded as they always do in such cases:
Phase 1: The problem is treated as though it did not exist.
Phase 2: The problem is downplayed along the lines of: “It isn’t really that bad.”
Phase 3: Politicians justify their own actions by noting that others reacted the same way.
Phase 4: Additional scapegoats are presented to the country; with respect to dying forests, nuclear energy opponents are held to be partly or mostly responsible.
Phase 5: The subject is – in the language of verbal imperialism – “appropriated.” Explanations follow, claiming that the issue was always given high priority. Measures are taken that fall far short of what is necessary and possible.
Those responsible for environmental affairs have meanwhile moved from Phase 2 to Phase 3, 4, or 5, depending on the federal state.
Bavaria’s minister of agriculture Hans Eisenmann, who, in 1981, had accused critical forestry experts of sowing panic in order to receive state funding for research projects, explained at a hearing last week that spruce trees in Bavaria have been damaged “to a heretofore unfathomable extent.” Eisenmann: “Symptoms have spread throughout most of the state….”
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* Josef Ertl was the German Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture, and Forestry from 1969-82 and 1982-83 – trans.