Denis Dagneaux, forestry engineer at Épinal”Attention to the environment is stronger”

What makes you get up in the morning?

The feeling of being useful. The forest provides everything, man needs it. Take the water: watching over the forests of the Vosges, I am the guardian of drinking water. In this department, 80% of the catchment points are located in the forest. It also contributes to air quality and the fight against climate change, as it is a carbon sink. Ecological and economic issues are therefore at stake here. The wood industry represents 430,000 people in France, more than the automobile industry!

What makes me get up is, in a more intimate way, the joy of being in the forest. A manager is often behind a desk, but in my life, not a week goes by that I don’t go into the field. I’m a bit like a tree, I draw strength from the forest. In spring, you will see: there is an incredible energy. And extraordinary smells, scents of pines, firs, oaks, beeches… The landscapes, the colors are never the same.

Where are the French, seen from the forest?

Attention to the environment is stronger but there is great confusion. We mix everything. For many people, cutting down a tree is wrong. But the same people consider that the forest is theirs, that they can enjoy it without limits, ignoring the ecosystems, the need for respite of fauna and flora. And here, I’m talking about mountain bikers as hunters. I see in it a misunderstanding of nature but also an obsession with “everything, right away” – whether we like it or not, the consumer society remains our horizon. This reflects on the work of the forester, who must ensure the various uses: everyone has the right to benefit from the forest, but not just anytime or anyhow. But tensions are high. There are sometimes studs on mountain bike trails and damaged hunter watchtowers.

What is your assessment of the last five years?

There have been some good things, in particular thanks to the France Relance plan. In state forests (which belong to the State, Editor’s note), we have the means to ensure surface renewal. The same cannot be said of communal forests, which we manage but whose fate depends on local elected officials. The duration of a political mandate is not that of ecosystems. The result is unfortunately very concrete: forests, even public ones, do not renew themselves properly. An example: after the confinements, we cut 3,800 hectares of coniferous trees in the Vosges, because the trees were sick due to droughts and parasites. Only 20% of municipalities have decided to finance reforestation, even though they can apply for state aid. This is short-term management, for lack, I find, of elected visionaries, capable of projecting themselves into twenty, thirty or fifty years. This is also true at the top of the state: for forestry, the recovery plan covers one year. After the 1999 storm, plans ran for ten years.

Has a scene stood out to you recently?

At the NFB, we sometimes conduct hunting operations to regulate game when it proliferates. The excess boars devour the young shoots and prevent the forest from starting again. But this time – it was in the North, we were giving our colleagues a hand – we found ourselves faced with about forty angry hunters. They did not want us to intervene on “their” ground. They put themselves behind the rifles or in the shooting angles. Except that we’ve been telling them to regulate for months, when they prefer that the game abounds to guarantee good hunts…

What is important to you in your job?

The long term. A tree is one hundred and fifty years old. Do you know of other professions where you do foresight over more than a century? The trees that I collect were planted between 1800 and 1830. I place myself in this wake. We must always ask ourselves why the ancients made such and such a choice. Today, the stakes are high: should, for example, photovoltaic panels be installed in the forest? Of course, we need renewable energies. But it is also necessary to preserve the environments, the soils, the landscapes to which the inhabitants are attached. Balance, always… (He smiles.) Another issue: should we, among different species, plant maritime pines or cedar in the Vosges to deal with global warming? It’s moving to think that, in a hundred years, foresters will be witnesses to our choices.

What is the first action you would take if you were president?

My priority would be to free up resources to renew the forest. There are many avenues: a tax on the sale of forest products or on export; we could also imagine a variable VAT, depending on whether the wood goes to the other side of the world or whether it is used locally, by our industry. It would be a way to promote the economy, jobs in France. Let’s understand the logic: the forest provides us with immense services – the quality of water, air, etc. – who are not paid. We could also pay for carbon capture, which is so precious today.


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