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Restoring the unruly to the German landscape.


* Riding trains across Germany and back again affords a long look at the landscape, from expansive views of flat coastal plains and rolling uplands to intimate glimpses into backyards. Gardens lap up to the tracks in neat, flower bedecked plots; small fields stripe the valleys with bright green corn, yellow rye, purple flowers; forests darken the slopes and serrate the ridges.

It is a profoundly pastoral landscape whose entwining of the natural and the human is best described as a Kulturlandschaft, German for cultural landscape. Fields end precisely, cleanly. Forest horizons change texture and color in evidence of a harvest. For an American environmentalist in the 1990s, there is a sense of unfulfilled expectation. The eye longs for something ragged at the edges, something unkempt and unruly; something of nature that has overthrown the yoke. Incredible as it may seem in this tamest of countries, such places have begun to reevolve in the half century and more since the lack of wilderness in the German landscape made Aldo Leopold so uneasy. In 1970, Germany inaugurated a system of national parks, modeled on America's, where land is left unmanaged. In the Bavarian Forest National Park, where contrary to centuries of German custom deer are neither fed nor hunted, I saw the lush undergrowth that Leopold despaired of finding in overbrowsed, Central Germany is a pastoral landscape where fields end in tidy precision. managed woods. Some German states have withdrawn small plots of public land from management so natural processes can be studied. I toured one such reserve with a forester who promised a liter of beer to any logger who saved a woodpecker tree.

The stream canalization that so depressed Leopold is being rethought. Along the Altmuehltal River, Bavaria is digging out culverts and recreating fish habitat.

Plantation habits persist in some places. The Black Forest, especially, is a monotonous place, and not so much brooding as boring. But in other places there are tousled forests of many native species, and on the eastern side of the Elbe River there are wooded wetlands where European cranes still breed.

It has been said that tolerance of predators is the measure of a people's relationship with the wild. The wholesale extirpation of predators, accomplished in Germany as early as the 1700s, is now being partly reversed by lynx reintroductions. Lynx are also thought to be moving on their own into Germany across the dismembered borders to the east, and golden eagles from the Alps may be recolonizing the Black Forest. The giant owl called Uhu, whose voice Leopold mourned, is still rare but seems considerably more widespread than in the 1930s. I lost count of the hawks hunting infields that I passed through by train, and in many places where I walked I stepped over martin scats, There is a consciousness of the need for connections among islands of habitat, and a hope that the new political openness will broaden the options.

Leopold found Germans flocking to wild west movies and so did 1: everyone was talking about Dances with Wolves. An inherent fascination with untrammeled nature has begun to express itself tangibly in Germany. There has been an awakening to the value of nature left to its own wild choices. If it can happen in Germany, one of the most densely populated nations on earth in one of the oldest habitats of modern man, there may yet be hope for wilderness in the world.--CHRIS BOLGIANO
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Title Annotation:unmanaged woods
Author:Bolgiano, Chris
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1992
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