Steigerwald: New attempt for a national park – Bavaria

Like here near Ebrach, two-thirds of the Steigerwald consists of beeches.

(Photo: Sebastian Beck)

Ancient beeches that soar 40 meters into the sky like the mighty pillars of a cathedral, quiet meadow valleys through which natural streams meander, and ravine forests whose slopes are so steep that forestry there is not worthwhile. There are also rare species such as the black woodpecker, the wild cat and the Bechstein’s bat. This is the Steigerwald, a quiet forest area with gentle mountain ranges in the Drei-Franken-Eck on the route between Nuremberg and Würzburg. For almost exactly 15 years, conservationists and forest experts have been demanding that Bavaria’s third national park be established in the region. So far they have always failed due to the veto of the CSU and FW. Now seven associations and initiatives are starting a new campaign. Their motto is: “Steigerwald National Park – Bavaria’s crown of beech forests”.

Of course, the two most well-known Bavarian environmental organizations, the Bund Naturschutz (BN) and the Landesbund für Vogelschutz (LBV), belong to the merger. You have been campaigning for a national park in the Steigerwald since the debate began in 2007. But local organizations such as the Steigerwald National Park Association are also involved. In addition, Greenpeace and the Naturefriends of Germany as well as the small, very agile Gregor-Louisoder-Umweltstiftung from Munich. And the renowned, internationally active Zoological Society in Frankfurt (ZGF). It was once made famous by Bernhard Grzimek, director of the Frankfurt Zoo and animal filmmaker. “A national park in the Steigerwald would be a strong signal to the world community and a benefit for the region, Bavaria and Germany and for nature,” says FZS Managing Director Christof Schenk.

Block the CSU and Free Voters

In fact, experts count the northern Steigerwald with its biotopes and nature reserves among the most valuable beech forests in Germany. One example is the Waldhaus natural forest reserve near the old monastery town of Ebrach. Experts name the almost 100-hectare area in the same breath as the famous primeval beech forests in the Ukraine and Slovakia, in Slovenia and in the Romanian Carpathians. They all belong to the world natural heritage of Unesco, the cultural organization of the United Nations. According to the conviction of the forester Georg Sperber and the CSU local politician Günther Denzler, a Steigerwald National Park would have every chance of becoming part of the world natural heritage. Sperber, who is now 89 years old, and Denzler have long been the drivers of the local national park debate.

CSU and Free Voters block the designation of the protected area. Probably the sharpest National Park opponent is the former Secretary of State for the Interior and CSU chairman in Lower Franconia, Gerhard Eck. The 62-year-old politician from Donnersdorf in the Schweinfurt district has been chairman of the anti-national park association “Unser Steigerwald” for many years. Eck and his supporters insist that everything stays the same in the Steigerwald. From their point of view, a national park would only bring disadvantages and restrictions to the local population.

The slogans of the National Park opponents are: Forestry and farmers, for example, would then no longer be allowed to produce wood, the sawmills would run out of domestic raw materials, and mushroom pickers and walkers would then no longer be able to roam freely in the forests. The Bavarian State Forests and their local forestry company, which manages a large part of the Steigerwald, also firmly reject a national park. Above all, however, it is the loud resistance of Eck and his anti-national park association why the protected area has so far been without any chance for the CSU and FW.

The mood in the region is changing

The new initiative is now hoping that this will change. In her estimation, the mood in the region has changed. The local association National Park Steigerwald, which with its chairman Liebhard Löffler almost tirelessly advocates for the protected area, has gained in importance, says LBV chairman Norbert Schäffer. In surveys, even in the immediate vicinity of the required protection area, there was a high level of approval. And as far as the population of Bavaria is concerned, the outstanding result of the “People’s petition for biodiversity – save the bees” in 2019 made it clear how important nature conservation is for them.

BN boss Richard Mergner recalls that even Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU), as Environment Minister at the time, was open to a Steigerwald National Park in the early years of the debate. Only when the massive resistance came did Söder and the state government change direction. “But the beech forests in the Steigerwald are so unique that they absolutely must be preserved,” says Mergner. “The national park is overdue.”

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