‘This is the most beautiful forest there is,’ says Martin Ebner. Single beams of sunlight streak through the tangled branches above, shining onto the face of the born-and-bred Eppan local. ‘The mixed deciduous woodland in Montiggl is an ecological and scenic gem,’ he explains. Martin Ebner is Eppan’s municipal forest ranger and gives me a tour of the nature reserve surrounding the two Montiggl lakes. For ten years now, he and his team have been making sure that not only the animals and plants are cared for in the municipal forest, but that mountain bikers, hikers, swimmers, mountaineers, beekeepers, hunters and nature lovers enjoy spending time here as well. He considers ‘his’ forest a ‘local recreational area for all.’
UNDERSTANDING THE FOREST
From mighty oak trees and pines to cherry and chestnut trees as well as small shrubs—everything grows and proliferates here. Yet the animal life native to the Montiggl Nature Reserve is unique as well. ‘Apart from the game and birds, we also have fi sh, as well as bees which are tended to in the forest by beekeepers,’ Martin tells us. Suddenly he points towards the bushes. ‘Do you see the grey wagtail over there?’ he asks. ‘There, the small one with the yellow breast,’ Martin whispers. I look to where his finger is pointing and finally see it, the small songbird which is now hopping around on the forest floor. When you are standing in the woods with Martin, you begin to realise that a forest ranger’s senses are different from those of a mere mortal. As we walk over the soft woodland floor, he keeps pointing to fresh tracks left by deer or other forest-dwelling creatures, and even as he talks, he hears many different species of birds chirping and singing in the forest. And he knows each one by name, just by the sound of their voice. After all, Martin’s hobbies aren’t just hunting and fishing—he is also a bird breeder.
‘Living with nature’ is the forest ranger’s personal motto.
IN HARMONY WITH NATURE
‘Living with nature’ is the forest ranger’s personal motto. ‘Anything else would be impossible,’ Martin admits. If he and his forestry workers want to cut down a tree in the Montiggl Forest, he must first consult the lunar calendar. He points to a tree a few feet ahead of us and explains: ‘If you were to chop down that alder in the wrong phase of the lunar cycle, the stock would simply wither and die.’
When asked what he likes best about his job, the Eppan local answers before you even finish phrasing the question. ‘Everything,’ he says. Martin flashes a smile and motions to me to lead the way to the newly created biotope by the Large Montiggl Lake. Our path to the shore leads us over large mounds of earth. ‘Those are for the kingfishers,’ the forest ranger points out, explaining that the blue-and yellow bird breeds in burrows and is found close to water. Martin also spotted a bittern here, a large brown wading bird that is almost impossible to make out as it stands in the reeds with its beak open. ‘That’s a rare bird, and it has the perfect camouflage,’ the forest ranger explains. Here by the lake the local forestry workers not only created a new habitat for birds, but also a shallow water area for fish. ‘In order to spawn, fish need shallow water that warms up quickly,’ Martin explains. The forest ranger throws a small pebble into the water to show me a sunfish that is perfectly camouflaged thanks to its sand-coloured scales. I squint, but I only see the fish once the pebble lands in the water and forces it to swim away.
SECRETARY, POLICE CONSTABLE AND TEACHER
The duties of a forest ranger are more diverse than you might think at first glance. A forest ranger is several people in one: office worker, forestry worker, tourist guide and consultant. ‘A forest ranger makes sure that all regional laws related to nature are adhered to,’ Martin explains. ‘We clean up the forest, check to make sure the steep paths and routes are in order, and get together with the municipal government to decide which parts of the forest are thinned out, sold or replanted,’ he continues. In order to know which trees are planted when, a forest ranger has a forest maintenance plan that is renewed every 15 years. It documents everything that happens in the forest. Occasionally, Martin even has to impose a fine. The Montiggl Forest has the same protection status as a nature reserve, which means that certain things are simply prohibited, such as picking mushrooms, for example. Yet the main duty of a forest ranger still is to coordinate everything. ‘Lately, the red tape has often been getting the better of us, unfortunately,’ the forest ranger laments. He does not come into the woods that often anymore; that is the responsibility of the municipal forestry workers. Apart from working outdoors, Martin thoroughly enjoys public relations activities. ‘I like teaching people things,’ he says. ‘Upon request, we not only provide guided tours through the forest, but also plant young trees with groups of schoolchildren or talk to the press about forest hazards.’ Martin Ebner does not have a favourite spot in the Eppan forest. ‘I like every nook and cranny,’ the forest ranger says as he peers skyward through the treetops.