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Dannenrod forest occupation against highway construction, Germany


Description:

After decades of protest, in October 2019, the forest “Dannenröder Forst” was occupied by environmental activists. They protest against the partial clearing of the “Danni” and adjacent forests for the further construction of the highway A49, which would connect the cities of Gießen and Kassel (where a road section already exists but currently leads nowhere). 85ha of the ancient forests are projected to be felled in total. 27ha of them are located in the Dannenrod Forest [1]. Activists set up protest camps around the forest, as well as a system of barricades and treehouses. Some of these activist groups were also present in the defence of the Hambach Forest (see EJAtlas case: https://ejatlas.org/conflict/occupation-of-the-hambacher-forst-against-brown-coal-mining-germany) [7]. 

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing €264 million to support the construction of a 31 km section of the A49 motorway. The 30-year long-term loan from the EU bank for the A49 is backed by a guarantee from the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), under the Investment Plan for Europe.

The construction of the highway A49 is implemented by “Deutsche Einheit Fernstraßenplanungs- und -bau GmbH (DEGES)”, a road construction company for public infrastructure acting on behalf of their client, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. DEGES, in turn, relies on a public-private partnership (PPP) for the construction of the highway. According to DEGES, this is supposed to be economically advantageous [6]. A fact that is criticized by many political and civil actors, as PPPs usually appear to be significantly more expensive to the detriment of taxpayers, while private partners benefit [1]. The contract for the construction was awarded to the Austrian company STRABAG, one of the largest construction companies in Europe [6]. 

The project affects an ecologically very valuable area. The forest itself is considered particularly healthy due to its composition of tree types. These are more resilient to the ongoing climate-change-induced, forest extinction in Europe. In fact, due to its special characteristics, the forest is a very suitable natural area for combating climate change. Combined with the widely discussed political project of a sustainable transportation and mobility change in Germany (“Verkehrswende”) the deforestation for a new highway represents an even more controversial topic [2]. At the same time, the planned route of the A49 runs through water protection areas and crosses three designated nature conservation areas. The former represents an important source of drinking water for the surrounding area and could pose a serious threat to the supply of clean drinking water if contaminated by the highway [3]. 

The construction company DEGES says that not all the trees in the Dannenrod forest are that old and that the forest is also used for forestry. DEGES also refers to a large number of compensatory and replacement measures that are to be implemented on an area of about 750 hectares. For example, near-natural forests are to be developed elsewhere or arable land is to be converted into grassland. Part of the Dannenröder forest will also be taken out of forestry use in the long term [6]. A measure that critics again see as ecologically insufficient and an empty promise [17]. 

The infrastructure measure was initially planned in the 1960s and was always preceded by protests of local and regional nature conservation organisations and citizens' associations. Several attempts were made to take legal action against the expansion of the highway and the underlying studies and assessment procedures [22]. 

However, the final decision on whether the A49 may be realized in this way was not made until July 2020, when the Federal Administrative Court dismissed the last appeals by environmentalists and residents [6]. A demand for a moratorium on the part of the federal Greens in the German parliament “Bundestag” was also rejected in the meantime [17]. The expansion is now being pushed ahead under the current state government, in which the Green Party is also involved. This poses a political and ideological problem for the once radical environmentalist party, as they have benefited from the emerging climate movement in recent years in their understanding as its parliamentary representation. Hence, it created a difficult situation in which leading party politicians at the federal level vehemently opposed the project, but at the state level the same party pushed for its implementation, using its own obligation to existing laws and political decisions as justification [5]. The activists' protest is therefore also increasingly directed against the party, which in their eyes betrays its own ideals, an effective climate policy and the protection of nature itself [6]. 

The final legal situation and political room for manoeuvre is disputed, while some continue to call for a possible halt to what is seen as an outdated project, some actors declare an inevitable implementation [8]. These include, above all, the currently ruling, conservative Christian-democratic party as well as some local supporter groups that expect the project to boost the region's economy [1]. 

However, the beginning of the eviction work in autumn 2020, in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, is considered illegitimate and a violent act of injustice by the activists [9][10]. After parts of surrounding forest areas were initially felled under protest, there were also repeated clashes with the police and reports of excessive and unjustified violence in the Dannenrod forest. Several people were injured, and the case received increased national and international attention from both media and other activist groups [12][19][20]. At the same time, activists held demonstrations, human chains, and other protests in surrounding and other locations throughout the republic. Several well-known activists from other areas showed solidarity with the protests and public events with music and forest walks took place, with increased participation from the local population as well [1][12][13]. There were also some protest actions where activists abseiled from several highway bridges, bringing traffic to a standstill. During these actions, there have been car accidents, for which the police hold the activists responsible, whereas the activists argue these are the result of a failed traffic policy in general. Subsequently, there were several arrests [16]. 

Nevertheless, the eviction work continued in the past weeks, with repeated violence and serious accidents. The police were accused of cutting ropes that activists had used to attach themselves to the treetops, resulting in falls from great heights and grave injuries [1]. In addition, a water cannon was used on the fringes of a demonstration in minus degrees, causing frostbite, hypothermia, and other injuries [10].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Dannenrod forest occupation against highway construction, Germany
Country:Germany
State or province:Hesse
Location of conflict:Dannenrod, part of Homberg (Ohm)
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Land
Transportation

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Around 85 hectares of forest will be cleared, 27 hectares of which will be in the Dannenrod Forest. This is a mixed forest covering a total area approximately 1,000 hectares. Among the trees, several are more than a hundred years old.

Project area:85
Level of Investment:1.300.000.000 EUR (around 1,700,000,000 USD)
Type of populationRural
Company names or state enterprises:Deutsche Einheit Fernstraßenplanungs- und -bau GmbH (DEGES) from Germany - Responsible for the construction and management of the highway project
STRABAG (STRABAG) from Austria
Relevant government actors:Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure – Currently under control of Andreas Scheuer of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), in the cabinet of Angela Merkel’s (CDU) coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).

Hessian state government - Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Green Party, led by Minister-President Volker Bouffier.
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Investment Bank (EIB) - The European Investment Bank (EIB) is providing €264 million to support the construction of a 31 km section of the A49 motorway.. https://www.eib.org/en/press/news/germany-eib-support-for-construction-of-a49-motorway
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Wald Statt Asphalt – https://waldstattasphalt.blackblogs.org/
Extinction Rebellion – https://extinctionrebellion.de/
Ende Gelände - https://www.ende-gelaende.org/
Fridays for Future – https://fridaysforfuture.de/
Aktionsbündnis ‚Keine A49’ - https://www.stopp-a49-verkehrswende-jetzt.de/
Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland Hessen (BUND) (Friends oft the Earth Germany) – https://www.bund-hessen.de/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Repression
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Many groups demanded a complete stop to the construction of the A49, acknowledgement of the importance of forests for the environment and their role in the fight against the climate crisis as well as a systematic change in German transport and infrastructure policy [1][10]. The proposal of an alternative infrastructure solution by other local activists and citizens was also discussed, in which a better connection for the regions economy would be created, but the forest would remain [18].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The felling of the trees could not be prevented by the activist. Nevertheless, several groups have occupied the area again in recent days to prevent the final preparations for construction in spring 2021. Despite the tragic ecological loss, the activists nevertheless consider it a partial success, as their struggle has generated various forms of resistance and created awareness throughout the country [21].

Sources & Materials

[7] Deutsche Welle - Germany: Police begin clearing forest protesters for autobahn extension, 10.11.2020.
https://www.dw.com/en/germany-police-begin-clearing-forest-protesters-for-autobahn-extension/a-55557033

[1] Deutschlandfunk - Proteste im Dannenröder Forst - Autobahnbau gegen Klimaschutz, 04.12.2020
https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/proteste-im-dannenroeder-forst-autobahnbau-gegen-klimaschutz.724.de.html?dram:article_id=488690

[8] TAZ - Aktivist*innen attackieren Grüne, 28. 10. 2020
https://taz.de/Streit-um-Dannenroeder-Forst-und-A49/!5721002/

[2] BUND - Klimaerhitzung verursacht Waldsterben – BUND fordert mehr Tempo bei der Energiewende und Schutzmaßnahmen für alte Wälder, 06.11.2020
https://www.bund-hessen.de/pm/news/klimaerhitzung-verursacht-waldsterben-bund-fordert-mehr-tempo-bei-der-energiewende-und-schutzmassnahmen-fuer-alte-waelder/?tx_bundpoolnews_display%5Bfilter%5D%5Btopic%5D=9&cHash=8265260ebab3d6b9ee25f7cced1e7661

[3] Oberhesse-live - Grüne nehmen zum Weiterbau der A49 Stellung, 06.11.2019
https://www.oberhessen-live.de/2019/11/06/die-durchquerung-eines-wasserschutzgebietes-ist-eine-oekologische-katastrophe/

[15] Frankfurter Rundschau - Heimatlos im Dannenröder Forst: Lage wird immer prekärer - „Was hier passiert ist eine Schande“.
https://www.fr.de/rhein-main/protest-dannenroeder-forst-leben-ohne-zwaenge-90104776.html

[17] Hessenschau - Ausgleichsflächen für umstrittene Autobahn - Hier wachsen Bäume für den Wald, der für die A49 verschwindet, 09.02.2020
https://www.hessenschau.de/gesellschaft/hier-wachsen-baeume-fuer-den-wald-der-fuer-die-a49-verschwindet,a49-dannenroeder-wald-100.html

[4] BUND - Chronik der A 49.
https://www.bund-hessen.de/waelder/keine-a-49-dannenroeder-forst-retten/chronik-a-49

[12] Frankfurter Rundschau - A49-Protest im Dannenröder Forst: Polizei untersagt Schneeballwürfe und setzt Wasserwerfer ein, 05.12.2020.
https://www.fr.de/politik/dannenroeder-forst-wald-live-a49-greenpeace-polizei-gewalt-protest-besetzung-90109410.html

[13] Die Zeit - Umweltschützer demonstrieren in Berlin gegen A49 in Hessen, 21.10.2020
https://www.zeit.de/news/2020-11/21/umweltschuetzer-demonstrieren-in-berlin-gegen-a49-in-hessen

[14] Mittelhessen - Proteste gegen Weiterbau der Autobahn 49 bleiben friedlich, 4.10.2020.
https://www.mittelhessen.de/panorama/aus-aller-welt/proteste-gegen-weiterbau-der-autobahn-49-bleiben-friedlich_22367277

[20] Dannenrod Forest Occupation: Call for support from Danni! 30.11.2020
https://autonomynews.org/dannenrod-forest-occupation-call-for-support-from-danni/

[21] Hessenschau - Einige A49-Gegner sind wieder im Wald, 08.01.2021.
https://www.hessenschau.de/gesellschaft/neuer-polizeieinsatz-einige-a49-gegner-sind-wieder-im-wald,dannenroeder-forst-neue-proteste-100.html

[5] Tagesschau- Grüne und der Dannenröder Forst - Der Preis des Regierens, 13.10.2020.
https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/dannenroeder-forst-105.html

[6] Hessenschau - Dannenröder Forst: Darum geht es im Konflikt um die A49, 01.10.20.
https://www.hessenschau.de/gesellschaft/dannenroeder-forst-darum-geht-es-im-konflikt-um-die-a49,faq-dannenroeder-100.html

[11] DW - Germany: Water cannon fired at Dannenröder forest activists, 05.12.2020.
https://www.dw.com/en/germany-water-cannon-fired-at-dannenr%C3%B6der-forest-activists/a-55831581

[16] Frankfurter Rundschau - A49-Gegner in U-Haft: Staatsanwaltschaft sieht Fluchtgefahr nach Abseil-Aktionen, 27.10.2020.
https://www.fr.de/hessen/autobahnen-a3-a5-und-a661-gesperrt-aktivisten-blockieren-autobahn-zr-90080358.html

[22] Bund Hessen - Friends of the Earth Germany. Chronik der A 49
https://www.bund-hessen.de/waelder/keine-a-49-dannenroeder-forst-retten/chronik-a-49/

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[10] Newsblog Dannenröder Wald retten!
https://www.danni-bleibt.de/

[18] STOPPA49 - Stoppt die A49, stoppt die Rodung der Wälder!
https://stoppa49.org/

[19] Koala Kollektiv - Solidarity with the Dannenröder forest occupation
https://koalakollektiv.de/tag/dannenroederforest/

Der Spiegel - Radikale Umweltschützer: Der Kampf um den Dannenröder Forst
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SR-7qzSC_X8

Mittelhessen.de - Protest gegen A49-Ausbau: Carola Rackete im Interview
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr9XCpDys7Y

Tagesschau - Ausbau der A49 in Hessen: Proteste gegen Rodung von Waldgebiet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vScu9o5oipw

Euronews - Forest protesters arrested in Germany
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptkLNNrtZG8

[9] Wald statt Asphalt - Blog Besetzung Dannenröder Wald
https://waldstattasphalt.blackblogs.org/

Meta information

Contributor:Luca Scheunpflug - EJAtlas Intern
Last update11/01/2021

Images

 

Treehouses in the forest

https://newsrnd.com/life/2020-10-06-expansion-of-the-a49-in-hessen--battle-for-the-dannenr%C3%B6der-forest-.SywwsttLP.html

Protest march through the forest

https://www.op-marburg.de/Landkreis/Ostkreis/So-viele-Baumbesetzer-wie-noch-nie

Human chain to protect the forest

https://www.op-marburg.de/Landkreis/Ostkreis/A49-Ein-Band-rund-um-den-Dannenroeder-Wald

"Danni bliebt" sign

https://www.danni-bleibt.de/kontakt/