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EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Hayley Maguire
Hayley Maguire - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years
Why was the public banned from entering Austrian forests for over 100 years? Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

For more than a century, Austrian forests were private spaces and entry was forbidden for the general public. Here’s why and how Austria banned everyone from the forest.


For anyone that lives in Austria, a public ban on entry to an Austrian forest seems unimaginable.

In 1852 though, that is exactly what happened with the introduction of the Reich Forest Act. 

But why was the Act enforced in the first place? And how did the Austrian public finally regain the right to enter the forest?

Here’s what you need to know.

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What was the Reich Forest Act?

The Reich Forest Act came into effect throughout the entire Austrian Empire on December 3rd 1852 and the law included a general ban on entering forests.

The reason for the Act was to protect forests from further damage after years of timber production and livestock grazing. The risk of flooding and avalanches were also heightened as a result of poor conditions in forests.

The main aims of the Act were to safeguard forests against clearing, ensure reforestation after harvesting, protection of forest stands (communities of trees), and special management on steep slopes, unstable ground and along riverbeds.

Not surprisingly, the strict rules worked and is part of the reason why Austria’s vast network of forests are so well maintained today.

But it meant forests became private spaces for 123 years - effectively banning the public from vast swaths of land across Austria.

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What happened in 1975?

In the decades after the Second World War, public interest in accessing forests started to grow, followed by political debate on the topic.

Then, on July 3rd 1975, the issue of opening up Austrian forests to the general public was discussed by the government during a National Council session. The result would be the Forest Act 1975.

Part of the argument - led by the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) - for ending the ban on entering forests was that Austria was a tourist country, and foreigners particularly liked to visit the Alpine Republic for its landscape.


It was also argued that only a small percentage of the Austrian population owned land and property, and so it was unfair to deny entry to forests on the basis of ownership.

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But forest owners and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) expressed concerns about changing the law, most notably regarding the liability of owners for maintenance and a responsibility for the health and safety of visitors.

As a compromise, the Forest Act was expanded to include the General Civil Code. 

This regulated responsibility for the condition of a forest path and paved the way for owners to receive subsidies for forest fire insurance. Forest visitors were also deemed liable for their own safety. 

Despite initial hesitations by forest owners and the ÖVP, the extra clauses managed to sooth the opposition and eventually the Forest Act was unanimously approved in the National Council. 

In a transcript of the National Council session, Oskar Weihs (SPÖ), the then Acting Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, said: “According to the new forest law, no one can be forbidden to enter and remain in the forest.”

Once again, Austrian forests were open to the public for recreation.

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What are the rules for entering a forest in Austria today?

Around 48 percent of Austria’s territory is covered by forests and in theory anyone can enter a forest at any time. There are a few rules though.

According to the Forest Act 1975, authorities can impose a ban on access to certain areas. For example, if trees are being cleared or maintenance work is taking place that could be a danger to people.

Access to reforestation areas can also be restricted until trees have reached 3 metres in height.

Plus, camping, biking (including mountain biking) and driving vehicles along forest paths is not allowed unless the owner has granted permission.

Additionally, the law states that information boards have to be put up in public areas in accordance with the Forest Marking Ordinance (Forstliche Kennzeichnungsverordnung) to inform visitors about any closures or rules.

Useful link

More information about the rules for entering an Austrian forest can be found at the Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism.


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