Devastation and Renewal in the Czech Republic’s Legendary Šumava Forest
In the heart of central Europe in the land formerly known as Bohemia, lies a region of iconically beautiful and fragile forest: the ancient Šumava (“the sound of wind in the trees”). The slender non-native conifers that populate this region, in addition to being commercially farmed, are under massive assault by bark beetles, which invade and kill trees that are already weakened by climate-change related drought. The Czech Government engages in a controversial practice of logging the affected areas to curb the spread of the beetles, and in 2018 more trees in the Šumava were cut down than in any previous year. In the heart of the reserve, a tiny section called Boubin Prales (“primeval forest”) is dedicated to preserving the original deciduous beech species; but reforestation progress is slow and tentative and the young trees are vulnerable to mass damage in extreme weather events.
Exploring the Šumava through the winter of 2018-2019, I experienced a rich mixture of sadness, beauty, and reverence, as what is left of this ecosystem hangs in fragile balance. The spirit of the ancient forest feels omnipresent here, as if radiating from the Earth itself, reminding us of what the forest once was, and of the magnificence of all trees everywhere. In this space I had the thought that hope is not a prerequisite for action; hope is the result of action. Hope is what we get to feel after we have done everything we can to protect what we love.
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