After the Second World War, renowned forest and wood scientists from various parts of the German Reich gathered in Hamburg, where the Reich Institute for Foreign and Colonial Forestry had been located in Reinbek since 1939. Thus the foundation was laid for the Central Agency for Forestry and Forest Product Research, and was adopted by the Federal Government in May 1950. One year later, the agency was re-named the Federal Research Centre for Forestry and Forest Products (BFH).
BFH's mission was to draft scientific basics and provide knowledge needed by the Federal Government for its policy decisions. As the Federal Republic of Germany could only cover about half of its wood needs from German forests in the 1950s, the main emphasis was on documenting and observing the economic markets for crude timber and wood processing products in terms of economics in order to make prognoses on the development of these markets and suggest measures to improve the market situation.
During this period, research had already started to focus on the organic and economic problem settings associated with the development of forestry in developing countries, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Both the forest policy studies on the requirements for the sustainable management of forests as well as natural science technical studies in the areas of forest economics and forest inventories played a role in this context. These activities were conducted in close cooperation with the responsible UN agency, the FAO.
In forest technology, one of the research goals was to use the implemented raw materials to the best possible extent and to achieve a high added value. By further improving wood products and processing, an attempt was made to expand the wood market, to supply the population with high quality products and to support the largely small-scale forestry and wood production enterprises by generating innovations.
In order to fulfil its broadly-based mission, in 1954, BFH was subdivided into the Institutes for Forest Policy and World Forestry, Forest Development and Exploration, Forest Genetics and Forest Plant Breeding, Biology and Pathology of Wood as well as for Wood Protection, Wood Chemistry and Cellulose Chemistry, Wood Physics and Mechanical Technology of Wood in 1954. The agency was located in Reinbek, near Hamburg.
The demands on BFH grew and led to very cramped conditions at the Reinbek centre. It relocated to new premises in Hamburg-Bergedorf in 1976, where significantly expanded resources were available and staff could be increased. Thus it was possible to address new research topics which the ministry considered to be particularly acute. These included studies on the storage, preparation and quality maintenance of storm-damaged wood after large wind breakages of the 1970s.
Furthermore, BFH was assigned the task of elaborating methods for the central organisation of a large-scale forest inventory. This national forest inventory was carried out for the first time from 1986-1989. BFH's results served, amongst other things, to make prognoses on the potential amount of unprocessed lumber in the next 40 years and on forest development.
Following the dramatic increase in forest damage in the 1970s, a new, multi-institute research focus emerged at BFH: the documentation of forest damage and the explanation of its causes, and the impact of environmental influences (emissions, climate) on the forests and wood quality. Cooperation with other research areas in the Federal Republic of Germany was conducted through the inter-ministry working group “IMA Forest Damage/Air Pollution.” In the 1980s, BFH took responsibility for the analysis of contemporary developments and regional distribution for the National Forest Damage Survey (WSE).
On the recommendation of the German Council of Science and Humanities, two new BFH institutes were founded in the new Federal State of Brandenburg in 1992: the Institute for Forest Ecology and Forest Inventories was established in Eberswalde, a location with a long tradition of forestry research where the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) was launched in 1892. The Institute for Forest Plant Breeding in Waldsieversdorf – which later amalgamated with the Institute of Forest Genetics in Großhansdorf, near Hamburg – perpetuated the tradition of a research institute that had existed since 1946 and had its origins in the Department of Forest Plant Breeding at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Müncheberg.
As a national centre, the BFH assumed the coordination and professional leadership of the second National Forest Inventory, the National Soil Survey in Forests as well as the Forest Condition Survey, each of which analysed data from sample sites all over Germany. Since 1991, BFH has also coordinated large sections of the European-wide Forest Condition Survey and prepared the annual Forest Condition Report for Europe.
In the mid-1990s, BFH adopted an new environmentally-related research focus, emphasising the eco-balances of wood and wood products, including wood production in forests. Here it was possible to demonstrate the advantages of the renewable resource wood for a variety of construction and raw material applications, as well as for fuel, which are completely based on a natural cycle.