“We will never agree to a change to the EU treaties that takes away Poland’s competences in forest management. We cannot agree to allow one-third of Poland – because that’s how much is forest – to be run from abroad.”
Michał Gzowski, spokesman for the Polish State Forests organization, talked to Karol Gac for Sovereignty.pl.
Not long ago the idea was raised at the EU that it should assume further competences, this time in the area of forestry policy. In January, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety issued a positive opinion on a change to the treaties that would reclassify forestry from a national competence to a competence shared between the EU and member states. Under the existing treaty terms the EU does not pursue a common forest policy, and forestry remains a competence of member states. How do you view this idea?
The idea is absurd. Decisions about forests in Poland will never be made by Brussels officials. Our response to this is a firm no! We will never agree to this kind of change to the treaties that takes away Poland’s competences in such an important area. The Polish forest management model is admired on the European stage and has a great tradition. The State Forests organization, which takes care of 80 percent of forest areas, has inaugurated its centenary celebrations. The legacy of this vast experience and the future of a superbly functioning organization now have a question mark hanging over them.
We cannot agree to allow one-third of Poland – because that’s how much is forest – to be run from abroad. The whole thing also means the incapacitation of our country, which is taking place successively and step by step as national competences are given up into the hands of Brussels. Foresters have a duty to raise the alarm when this dangerous process impinges on our field of work.
So where is this EU action coming from?
Poland’s forests make a tasty morsel for the Eurocrats. We should remember that forests are more than just trees, plants, animals and mushrooms. They make up a huge territory, too large for us to be able to look on calmly and without concern at what might happen. Forests make up as much as one-third of the area of Poland, more than 90,000 square kilometers of land. This is three times the size of Belgium. Then under the surface are raw materials, which mean gigantic amounts of money. And who knows whether under the surface of EU policy there might not be an interest in this land and the minerals that can be mined from it. Undoubtedly, for strategic reasons, decisions about these areas should continue to be made by Poles.
Let us assume though, for the sake of discussion, that such a scenario comes about. What do you think might happen then?
The new measures imposed by the European Commission will lead to negative consequences for biodiversity, for the possibility of adapting the forests to cope with climate change, and above all will significantly restrict the supply of timber and cause its price to rise. This in turn will lead to a rapid rise in imports, partly from countries that do not practice sustainable forest management, which will accelerate deforestation and degradation outside the EU. Wood will be replaced by other raw materials whose manufacture requires large amounts of energy and is based on non-renewable sources, such as plastic, rubber, concrete or ceramics. The result will therefore not be the prevention of climate change, but its acceleration.
In turn, Michał Woś, who was Poland’s minister for the environment in 2020 and is now a secretary of state in the ministry of justice, has drawn attention to the EU’s CO2 regulation, nicknamed Lucifer, which defines how much carbon dioxide each country’s forests should absorb. According to the latest amendment, French and Belgian forests are to absorb less, while Poland’s will absorb more.
The basic problem concerns Poland’s high absorption target. While absorption and the method of calculating it for reporting purposes are mainly correlated with the annual increment, forecasts show that the national target for 2030, which is 38 million tons CO2 equivalent, will be hard to attain.
It seems that Poles take an unambiguous view of this matter. On March 16, politicians from the Solidarna Polska party, which is part of the United Right coalition led by Law and Justice, and forestry representatives formed a committee for a citizens’ legislative initiative called “In Defense of Polish Forests.” The collection of signatures was a huge success – more than 500,000 signatures were obtained in the week before Easter. This is a record for the post-communist period in Poland.
Defending Poland’s competences in the area of forestry – this is what the founders of the legislative initiative committee “In Defense of Polish Forests” aim to do. The number of signatures collected for the citizens’ bill, aimed at ensuring that Poles have the exclusive competence to decide how Polish forests are run, exceeded the boldest expectations! Poles once again passed a test of their civic attitudes in the face of danger, and mobilized themselves so well that more than half a million signatures were collected in just one week.
Every one of us knows what a forest is and has some kind of vision of it. But what do Poland’s forests look like?
Polish forests are in superb condition, as figures confirm. The first relevant figure is forest cover, which indicates what percentage of the total land area is forested. Forest cover in Poland is currently 29.6 percent, which means that almost one-third of the country’s area is forest. This was not always the case. In 1946, the figure was a mere 20.8 percent. Thanks to the efforts of foresters, the total area of forests in Poland has increased by almost a half! No other country in Europe can boast such a substantial increase in forest cover.
Moreover, Poland is among the EU countries with the largest timber volume, with a total of more than two billion cubic meters. This is helped by our location in a temperate climate zone, but also by a consistently implemented forestry policy. Only about two percent of the wood growing in the forests is harvested each year, which means that the timber volume in Polish forests is constantly increasing, in terms of the amount of timber per unit area, or more simply, the number and size of trees.
Poland’s forests are becoming more and more mature and majestic. Most of the trees are aged between 40 and 80 years. The average age is 60, but foresters are recording a constant increase in the number of trees over 80 years old. Since the end of World War II, the area occupied by such trees has increased from 0.9 million hectares to more than 2.3 million. Tree stands older than 100 years make up 14.9 percent of the forest area managed by the State Forests organization (PGL LP).
The most common trees in lowland and upland areas are pines, which account for around 60 percent of forest area, while the dominant species in the mountains are spruce in the west, and spruce mixed with beech in the east. Pine is dominant for a simple reason – the land left over to forestry has the soils of the poorest quality, and pine tolerates such soils. Our ancestors used the fertile soils to cultivate crops. However, such forests have proved poorly resistant to climatic factors, and have readily fallen victim to attack by pests. For this reason, numbers of the more resistant broadleaved tree species are being increased in Polish forests – these include oak, maple, beech, and lime. Just after World War II broadleaved stands made up 13 percent of the total area, but this has now increased to almost 32 percent.
Prezydent @AndrzejDuda w #Suchedniów: Polscy leśnicy sadzą rocznie pół miliarda drzew. Co ogromnie cieszy – lasów przybywa. Mamy spektakularny wzrost areału leśnego w przestrzeni europejskiej, a pewnie nawet światowej.
Las to jest miejsce, gdzie można przyjść, wyciszyć się,… pic.twitter.com/iatsS6gUjN
— Kancelaria Prezydenta (@prezydentpl) October 3, 2023
President Andrzej Duda near Suchedniów, in southeastern Poland: “Polish foresters plant half a billion trees annually. What is extremely gratifying – forests are increasing.”
We should also remember that 80 percent of Polish forests are state-owned, which is an uncommon situation in Europe.
PGL LP is the EU’s largest organization managing state-owned forests. We manage areas of particular value, as this is land where forests grow. More importantly, these areas are continuously expanding, since thanks to the efforts of foresters, new forest is being created.
At present, the total area of forests in Poland is over 9.2 million hectares. The great majority are state-owned, and of these more than 7.1 million hectares are managed by PGL LP.
What is involved in foresters’ everyday work? What is the root of the success of the Polish model of forest management?
We take care to preserve the biodiversity of forests, and we protect them against multiple threats – natural disasters, plagues of insects, tree diseases, fires, pollution, and the effects of poaching and vandalism. In this way we not only care for nature, but also make it possible for Poles to use nature’s resources in a safe way – safe both for them and for the forests themselves. We also ensure that forestry operations, which provide the market with a universal and environmentally friendly raw material, namely wood, conform to principles of sustainable development, taking account of all of the functions that forests perform.
Foresters are a source of rich knowledge about the Polish forests, their history, and their natural and other assets. We are engaged in educational and promotional activities that help Poles to learn more about this important element of national heritage. We publish books, periodicals and leaflets, and maintain our website at www.lasy.gov.pl.
For foresters, the forest is not just their place of work, but also their passion. Every day, more than 25,000 people employed by PGL LP work with great commitment to ensure that Poland’s forests survive and develop. They are doing this in better and better conditions, as we combine State Forests tradition with the latest achievements of science and technology. We are introducing the newest generation of forestry machinery, as well as measuring and monitoring equipment and other tools that make our work safe, fast and effective. We attach great importance to the use of computerized tools. The State Forests’ computer system is used to collect and process data so as to support forest management and the planning and supervision of commercial activity. Timber from the forests can be purchased online, using the Forest and Timber Portal (PLD) and the e-Drewno application.
Forest management means taking care of Poland’s forests so that the country’s economy is supplied with timber, citizens have more and more healthy places to spend leisure time, and nature can develop safely. The sustainable and multifunctional management that our foresters have been carrying on for almost a century serves as a model for the whole of Europe. We truly have something to boast about – we have more and more forests, and their condition is constantly improving.
The Polish model of permanently sustainable forest management has up to now been a model for other countries. It relies on practices developed by several generations of Polish foresters and on their century of experience, but also draws on the latest scientific advances and modern technologies. Foresters do not just harvest timber, but also renew tree stands and plant trees on unused land, which means that the area of the country covered by forest is constantly growing. At the same time they make the forest areas accessible to the public, which is not a common practice in other European countries.
Polish forests are home to an exceptionally rich and well preserved wildlife, by European standards
In this way Poles can be sure that they are not in danger of being subjected to the kinds of restrictions found in Western Europe.
One of our principal tasks is to make the forests accessible to the whole of society. The fact that the great majority of them are under the care of the state ensures a fundamental benefit – free access to forests for all citizens. For anyone seeking leisure and relaxation there, we encourage you to make use of the State Forests’ wide range of tourist services. There are vacation centers, foresters’ lodges and guest rooms, all in beautiful woodland locations. All the information you need to plan an attraction-filled stay in the forest is available in our forest tourist guide at czaswlas.pl.
What’s more, the area of forest in Poland has increased significantly in recent years, all thanks to the purchases made by the State Forests organization.
The main reason for the expansion of forests in Poland is the consistent implementation of permanently sustainable forest management. I spoke about the rate of increase in afforestation at the start of our conversation. To keep expanding the area of forests in Poland, PGL LP organizes additional ventures, such as land purchases. We buy land for afforestation and plant new forest there. In 2022 and 2023, PGL LP has purchased and afforested more than 7,000 hectares of new land.
We should emphasize that contrary to what people might hear, the State Forests organization is not an ordinary profit-oriented enterprise.
PGL LP operates on a self-financing basis. This means that the organization is not subsidized by taxpayers’ money. Its self-financing system is made possible by what is called the forest fund. The forest districts that are in good financial condition transfer their surpluses to the fund, and these amounts can then be used by other units. The fund is also used to finance other undertakings, including some at national level – for example, education, scientific research, infrastructure building, and the preparation of forest management plans. This model means that the state forests are not a burden on the national budget – income from the sale of timber is used for the other tasks that the organization is required to perform.
However, leaving the EU’s plans aside, the State Forests and Polish foresters are simultaneously being attacked by the Polish opposition. Politicians accuse you, among other things, of “tearing down forests” and of exporting timber to China. How do you answer these charges? Maybe PGL LP is just a thorn in the side of those who see how well Polish forests are managed and how effectively the organization operates?
We are constantly hearing the same absurd allegations. So let me state once again our definitive reply. PGL LP does not export timber to China or to any other country in the world, because it does not handle exports of this raw material at all. It is sold to businesses legally operating in Poland, with a very small fraction also going to firms registered abroad. These are about twenty EU firms out of our 7,000 registered customers. We should remember that the principle of free flow of goods and services from member states is one of the foundations of the European Union. For more than a decade, PGL LP has been using special computer tools in the sales process to ensure that all procedures are transparent and business partners are selected impartially. What the purchasers do with the timber is up to them individually. Deciding whether they export it or process it within Poland, and to what degree, is the purchaser’s autonomous right, and we are unable to interfere. This is almost exactly the kind of relationship that exists between a store and a customer. After customers leave the till, no one has the right to interfere in what they do with the contents of their baskets. If a customer wants to send those goods abroad, that will be a matter for the tax and customs authorities, not the store.
For almost a century, in line with the principles of sustainable and multifunctional forest management, foresters have been taking good care of Poland’s forests. The basic document governing the conduct of forest management by the forest districts is the forest management plan, approved by the minister with responsibility for the environment. This is drawn up every ten years, and contains a detailed description and assessment of the state of the forests and the goals, tasks and methods of forest management, taking account of such matters as principles for forest cultivation and use, and the protection of nature, the landscape and biodiversity. The preparation of this document is a complex process involving a large number of scientists and experts, which takes about three years. Public participation is guaranteed at every stage.
After the plan comes into effect, timber harvesting in each forest district takes place strictly in accordance with the limits laid down in the plan and in strictly defined locations. There is no possibility of increasing the amount harvested due to a change in the economic situation or a rise in prices. Therefore, the phenomenon of mass fellings, as often presented in the media, does not occur in Poland.
Adam Loret, the first director of the State Forests and a great authority on forestry, has noted that “the importance of forest management is not limited only to the economic side in the life of the nation,” because “the forest also has many features that are irreplaceable for the country.”
The Polish forests are our national asset, there can be no doubt about that. In Poland nearly every fragment of forest, outside nature reserves and national parks, is multifunctional forest. What does this mean? That it serves as a sanctuary for nature (the natural function) and at the same time serves humans in two ways: by providing a place for recreation, tourism and education (the social function) and by supplying timber and other products (the economic function).
The natural function means above all maintaining forest biodiversity, reducing carbon dioxide levels, protecting water resources, preventing floods, and protecting soil from erosion and the landscape from steppification. A significant part of the areas managed by PGL LP is subject to various forms of nature protection. Within those areas are 1,296 nature reserves, about 11,000 natural monuments, and 3,990 species protection zones.
The economic function means above all the supply of wood to all of us. The forests and the raw material that comes from them also provide employment for about 375,000 people. Most of them are employed in the thousands of local family firms, working either in the forest or in factories that process timber and its derivatives. In total, the wood industry produces 2.3 percent of our country’s GDP.
Thanks to the forests’ social function, Poles have the opportunity to commune with nature and to spend their free time in natural surroundings. They can also go to the national forests to pick mushrooms and berries for their own needs. Foresters have made available and maintain for the public more than 20,000 kilometers of hiking trails, almost 4,000 kilometers of cycle trails, about 3,200 forest parking lots and parking places, and more than 600 camping grounds and campsites. PGL LP also offers free educational services – more than 1,000 educational trails, almost 600 educational shelters, and over 300 forest education centers. We invite everyone to come into the forest!