Walter Bitterlich

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Walter Bitterlich
Born (1908-02-19)February 19, 1908
Reutte, Austria
Died February 9, 2008(2008-02-09) (aged 99)
Reutte, Austria
Nationality Austrian
Fields Forestry
Institutions University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austrian Federal Forest
Alma mater University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences
Known for inventor of relascope; author of “The Relascope Idea” (1984); professor at the University of Agriculture at Vienna
Notable awards Society of American Foresters, honorary member

Walter Bitterlich (February 19, 1908 – February 9, 2008) was a world-renowned forest scientist. A notable contributions of his to the forestry profession was the invention of the relascope used in forest inventories.[1] The Society of American Foresters (SAF) declared him "the world's most famous Ranger".

Early career[edit]

Bitterlich descended from several generations of foresters and did much of his early work in the Tyrolean Alps of Austria.

Bitterlich Walter was the son of the forester Bitterlich Ernst and his wife Maria née Wachtel. He graduated from high school in Innsbruck and then studied in Salzburg. He actually wanted to be an artist. He graduated in 1930 as an engineer. In 1933 he passed with distinction the state examination for the Higher Forest Service. That same year he became a member of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. He then took no position, but worked as an unpaid volunteer at the Austrian Federal Forests (ÖBf) and took over forest management work in the Mayr-Melnhofschen Forest Service. He gained extensive experience in taxation, surveying and cartography in the forestry sector. From 1935 to 1938, until the beginning of World War II he worked as forester in his home town of Reutte.

During World War II he served as part of the Wehrmacht between 1942 and 1943 on the Eastern Front and then in Normandy. He set down his war mémoires in the later decades of life, published in 2003 by Ehrenberg-Verlag as Persönliche Aufzeichnungen von 1942 bis 1945 During this time he considered how military thinking could be applied to forest trees.[2] After the war he returned to his hometown of Reutte, and was not permitted to resume his former position by the ÖBf. So he moved with his family to his parents' in Salzburg. In 1946 he was working as a private forest in the Krupp estate administration in Blühnbach, where he tried his first ideas for Angle Count Sampling (ACS) in practice.

He first published his idea for the inventory method in 1948, which caused a great stir in the scientific world. In 1949 he presented this as the "Bitterlich method" at the World Forestry Congress in Helsinki. In the same year his dissertation on the ACS method was accepted at the Vienna University of Natural Resources (BOKU) and Bitterlich thus gained his Dr. nat. tech. degree.

In the following years, Bitterlich devoted primarily to his scientific work, and in 1948 was again a forester ÖBf, initially to 1953 in Zell am See, and then to 1967 in Hallein.

In 1967 he was appointed as a full professor at BOKU. During this time in connection with his Angle Count Sampling method he developed the Spiegelrelaskop which made him world famous. In Dr. Benno Hesske (around 1920 in Salzburg), he found from 1949/50 a congenial fellow, who helped to develop his inventions to production and make them then known worldwide. They were made initially at the company Optimar, from 1962, with his company, "Precision Optical Operating Company (FOB)". Bitterlich's methods are now used throughout the world and were included in all textbooks on forest and forest inventory gauging.

Walter Bitterlich was married to Ilse. The couple had four children. Gerhard, Helga, Herwig and Sigrid. Bitterlich, who never drank alcohol and never smoked, was very athletic. His enthusiasm for gymnastics brought him under forestry colleagues entitled "forester giant wave" field. In addition, he used his artistic interests and talents and worked philosophically. Its relevant considerations he summarized in a "world morality" together.

After many years of living in Salzburg and Hallein he returned to his hometown of Reutte, and died there in February 2008, ten days before his 100th Birthday.


Bitterlich's diary documented his ideas on ACS as early as 1931.[3]

Bitterlich designed many patents throughout his career, which are used today throughout many forest inventories worldwide. He published articles in various journals and held patents on various inventions, not only in the field of forestry. Forestry studies and inventions included the Anglecount probe, the Bitterlich stick, the Spiegelrelaskop and Telerelaskop. Also were those in the field of surveying the collective measuring angle and an optical Baummesskluppe. In weapons technology and the development of light snow vehicles were some others. Bitterlich remained until well into old age active in inventing active and worked in his workshop on the development and enhancement of tree measuring devices. So he created the so-called circle segment for detecting irregular tree cross sections from 1996 and dealt with the development of its originating from the 1952 sighting angle measurement.

Honours and awards[edit]

To mark Walter Bitterlich's 90th birthday, his Göttingen colleague, Horst Kramer wrote about him, "there is only a single living forester whose name is known to every other Ranger": Bitterlich.

In Germany, he was honoured by the award of the prize to the appreciation and promotion of excellence in the art Forest Biometrics.

Part of his scientific work and his equipment have been displayed at a permanent exhibition at the Forest Discovery Centre since 2004.


  1. ^ Burkhart, H.E., 2008. Remembering Walter Bitterlich Journal of Forestry, Vol. 106, No. 2., p. 61.
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  4. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 664. Retrieved 22 October 2012.