The incidence of natural disturbance in forests is increasing globally as a consequence of global warming. The concomitant large-scale transformation of landscapes can have profound social impacts and trigger political conflict that hampers resource management. This paper explores the link between landscape transformations and political conflict using the example of the bark beetle epidemic in Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany. For a significant part of the local population, the bark beetle represented a threat to their homeland and the post-disturbance landscape of dead wood reflected the dominance of outside interests in land management. This resentment sparked the formation of a local political movement, which was successful in pressing for changes in the current land management policy that were based on the ideal of a green forest landscape that needed to be protected by human intervention. An alternative interpretation of the post-disturbance landscape, however, welcomed it as a step towards authentic wilderness and opposed interventions to control the bark beetle. These contrasting understandings of the post-disturbance landscape underpin the protracted political conflict over the appropriate management of natural disturbance that has been smouldering for more than 20 years. The article concludes that it is vital to understand the cultural meaning of landscapes before adopting a disturbance management policy in order to avoid paralysing political conflict and social unrest.