The development of Šumava forests under human influence

According to archaeological findings, there is a current belief that Šumava was not significantly populated during the Paleolithic era - the Stone Age dates back to 9000 BC. The initial settlements of a more permanent character appeared in the SW of Bohemia during the Bronze Age (3,000 to 1,000 years BC). The forests mainly receded due to fire burning. The Celtic tribes settled in the forests during the Iron Age around the time of Christ. The Celts were however gradually forced out by the Germanic tribe, the Marcomanni who left the Celtic agricultural settlements desolated. With the departure of the Marcomanni, the forests were left to evolve with almost no human influence. And so the Šumava forests began to change character only with the arrival of the Slavs in the 6th century, who found a refuge in the middle of the impenetrable forests. The cultural landscape began to penetrate the wooded surroundings. The gradual but disorganized and fairly subtle form of colonisation of SW Bohemia continued until the late 11th century.

The first mass and more or less organized colonisation of Šumava began at the beginning of the 12th century, under the rule of Přemysl Otakar I. Since then the nature in Šumava, including the forests has developed under the strong influence of human activity. The borderline virgin forests began to recede, making room for fields and pastures, and thus in the 13th century, the colonisation of the Bohemian borderland began.

The period from the beginning of the 13th century is referred to as agrarian colonisation. The outcome of this period was the emergence of the agricultural enclaves and settlements which impeded the integrity of the original forest complexes - so far mostly on the periphery of Šumava. The opening of artificial growth walls, regardless of the risk from the wind, created the first anthropogenic erosion of the virgin forest due to windbreaks and windfalls.

In addition to agricultural colonisation, industrial colonisation also arrived in the 14th Century. The first stage was typical gold mining which was later replaced by glass manufacturing. The influx of the new settlers led to further deforestation. The intensity of grazing also increased. The significant development of glass manufacturing, accompanied by the development of the new glassworks began in the 16th century. After the temporary slowdown caused by the Thirty Years' War, the industry reached another peak in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Excessive need of timber for glass furnaces (fuel, potassium carbonate, building constructions), led to intense exploitation of the forest in the immediate vicinity of the glassworks. Once the glassworks ran out of wood they moved deeper into the forest. Dozens of glass furnaces in Šumava led to the widespread devastation of the forest. The Theresian cadastre suggested that in the Prášily area, in the middle of the 18th century (except for permanently deforested areas) at least one third of the forests were affected by the industry. Another significant part of the forest was used for cattle grazing.

However, the deepest disruption to the Šumava forests occurred with the arrival of the timber colonisation from the early 18th century. For example the Schwarzenberg estate in the south part of Šumava accounted for 25 to 30 new settlements during the period 1728 - 1792. The colonisation of other parts of Šumava continued in parallel. The pressures described earlier on the forest ecosystems associated with existential needs grew in proportion with the increasing number of new settlers. With the arrival of timber colonisation, wood harvesting for commercial purposes grew in importance.

In the Šumava territory and the immediate vicinity there was sufficient wood and therefore it was regarded as little value. The commercial wood harvesting was not very profitable. Cattle grazing often provided a greater yield. The inland transport of timber by carriages was expensive and the rivers were not navigable. The River Vltava and the rapids below Čertova stěna (Devil's wall) above Vyšší Brod were huge obstacles. Long floated timber had to be reloaded on to carriages to avoid these obstacles. Another limiting factor of the inland timber transportation, until the development of the shipping canals, was the available means of transport.

The crucial change came with the construction of the Schwarzenberg canal in 1793. The export of firewood for Vienna ranged between 10,000 -18,000 fathoms (one cubic fathom of 60 feet is 1.895 m3, and 70 feet comes to 2.2105 m3). The speed of the forest clearance is evidenced by the fact that in thirty years of wood harvesting, there were no suitable trees left in the areas surrounding the canal (reserved wood harvesting maps preserved from 1791 of the Plešné Lake area and the forest management plans from the mid-19th century show that planned wood harvesting took place). When all the lucrative forests surrounding the canal disappeared, the canal was extended in 1821 - 1822. This made the so far intact forest areas surrounding Třístoličník approachable.

Based on experience with canal timber floating in the southern part of Šumava, in 1799 Prince Josef Schwarzenberg ordered the building of the Vchynice-Tetov canal. Construction was completed in 1801. Over the next 60 years until 1860, a total of 4,024,933 m3 of wood was harvested solely on the Schwarzenberg estate. The annual timber harvesting reached the long-term average of 67.1 thousand m3, while the annual prescribed yield was only 38.4 thousand m3. The extent of the timber harvesting was extreme in terms of the size of the affected area as well as the speed. The average annual cut affected 3.5 to 4 hectares of the area.

Intensive grazing also took place around 1855. Approximately 1,500 cattle were exclusively grazed in the Prášily forests. Grazing was significantly limited after 1865, however as a form of livelihood, grazing continued further. Bavarian cattle even grazed in the Modrava region in the early 20th century! In addition to grazing, there was also intensive grass cutting in the clear-cut timber areas from 1922 (JELÍNEK 1998, verbal communication). This activity further liquidated the remains of natural regeneration which survived the cut.

Over time and until the late 19th century, the pressures on the Šumava forests escalated. The condition and use of the Šumava forest ecosystems were significantly influenced by the war from 1939 - 1945, the following displacement of the German population and border arrangements, restricting entry into the large border territories. However, the abating human exploitation was replaced in the 20th century by global environmental problems in the form of air pollution, acid rain and perhaps other effects that we are unable to fully comprehend, much less quantify.

Besides cattle grazing, the overpopulated deer also caused lot of damage in the forest. In order to limit the damage to cattle and to protect the Šumava inhabitants, large carnivores such as wolf, bear and lynx were liquidated. This eased the pressure from predators on hoofed game. The absence of predators, along with hunting interests, led to an enormous increase in the number of hoofed game.

Production-oriented management has distanced the forests from their natural condition. The species, age and spatial composition of the forests in this area has seen major changes. The degree of alteration in the forest ecosystem varies.

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