Devčića Tavani

Devčića Tavani Old Growth Forest Reserve, Croatia

This old growth forest is one of a handful of lower elevation reserves of the magnificent Velebit Mountains, and it is one of the best examples of a typically widespread beech–fir forest type found in this region. However, upon entering its cathedral groves, the observer will be shocked by red dots marked on countless trees which have stood here for generations. These red blazes mark trees which are to be cut down, shipped off for sale in another country, used for cheap furniture, or thrown into powerplants. To the Croatian Forests logging company, these groves full of memory, inspiration, and ecological value would be better if converted into pocket change for those who profit off their destruction. By the time this report has been written (2022), this old growth forest would not have existed without the efforts of our guide from the Nature Park Velebit along with many researchers who aided in its protection.

This virgin forest was set to be logged in the 2022 season, and it is only a combination of luck and effort which saved it from a fate which has befallen most old forests. At that time the reserve boundaries had not been accurately established. This allowed plans for logging to be set into motion, despite the forest’s clear old growth composition. Had we not made last-minute plans with our guide to explore the forest at the end of the 2021 summer, today it would be a place of stumps and trenches ravaged by heavy machinery. Now, this forest has been given the true status of an old growth reserve, and its pristine cathedral groves will be left untouched by humans. In a few years when rain and time cleanse the trees of their markings, anyone who enters will be able to wonder at a rare haven of conservation.

Photo right: From left to right, large beech trees, fir, and spruce. The silver fir tree in the center is the largest measured in Devčića Tavani and even its great size did not save it from being marked for logging. Elevation ~1220m

There is not much research done on this forest, so this report is based on personal exploration as well as information from guides. The Devčića Tavani Reserve is found in the North Velebit region, located on a sheltered terrace near the edge of a large and steep slope dropping 900m down toward the plains below. It is the last remnant of the virgin forests which once covered this northernmost region of Velebit, and the name is derived from the larger area. The reserve itself covers some 100 hectares, comprising both a large valley full of sinkholes, as well as the small side valleys and slopes around it. Elevations range from about 1170–1300m. Based on nearby climate data, average annual temperature is under 6°C, while average annual precipitation is over 2200mm. The area is covered by productive beech (Fagus sylvatica), fir (Abies alba), spruce (Picea abies), and sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) forest. Interestingly, beech trees are on average among the most dominant in the forest composition of all the beech–fir virgin forests in Croatia. However, along with the large beech trees there are also many large fir and spruce trees, and in the past fir trees may have been dominant in parts of the forest. This is indicated by the snags and deadwood of large fir trees in many areas. However, silver fir also regenerates well, indicating that this is a natural cycle as opposed to fir die off in forests impacted by pollution or excessive deer grazing. The preserved state of the forest is also evident from the old trees, frequent deadwood, and areas of young trees. The lichen lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) can be found, which is an indicator of old forests. The only indications of human influence are the red forestry blazes on many trees, which will fade in the coming years. Until then, they will serve as a reminder of the constant battle between conservation and monetary interests.

Soil ranges from very deep at the bottom of sheltered sinkholes and slopes to very shallow on the moss-covered rocks and cliffs. In many places there are mossy rock monoliths rising from the forest floor or from ridges, and sometimes there is a nearly impassable terrain of rolling sinkholes where terraces and deep ravines alternate. Topography ranges from flat to sloping, and this area has some of the best examples of sinkhole topography among Croatia’s virgin forests, giving it the feeling of an impassable wilderness. The highlight of the karst geology is a limestone peak rising high above Devčića Tavani on its southeast border. This varied terrain also allows for a variety of tree developments, from large and towering trees of all species to stunted specimens on less favorable sites. Undergrowth cover is well developed in many places, with ferns and butterbur (Petasites spp.). The tree regeneration of all species is notable and expositions face in all directions.

The largest measured spruce tree is in the foreground with a large burl. Also, some large beech trees, as well as a large broken fir tree on the far right in the sinkhole below. Elevation ~1200m

The forest is generally tall with beech trees exceeding 40m in height and conifers of up to about 50m. There are many beech trees of impressive size and beauty due to their frequency, regularly reaching about 350cm in cbh (circumference at breast height). Maple trees can reach relatively large sizes but are still the smallest and least common tree species. The largest trees are silver firs, which are regularly well over 400cm in cbh. The largest and tallest fir is some 520cm in cbh and reaches a height of about 47m with a broken top. In the past it was several metres taller, and the volume is estimated at over 35 m3. The largest Norway spruce found is probably about 440cm in cbh, but it could not be measured due to a large burl below and above chest height (photo above). It is possible that larger beech and spruce trees can be found with more exploration, and maybe an even larger fir tree. Today, this virgin forest reserve endures as a valuable area which is a grand addition to the other pristine expanses of the Velebit Mountains. Such ecologically stable reserves are small havens for animals and plants to escape some of humanity’s effects on the environment.

Summary of a small study done in the forest in Croatian:

An article in Croatian on the protection of Devčića Tavani with some photos:

Interestingly, the author praises the Croatian Forests logging company for their efforts in determining Devčića Tavani’s status. However, he mysteriously fails to mention their efforts in marking countless old growth trees for logging until their activity was discovered by nature park staff and researchers.