Polish State Forests
On Saturday, 17 September 2011, the 15th pilgrimage of foresters to Jasna Gora will take place. Foresters will thank the Mother of God for the last year and ask for her blessings for next years. On this occasion it is worth reminding how the Polish forests are organised, who foresters are, what resources they manage and whether the resources could endanger the existence of these forests.
State Forests and foresters
According to the Central Statistical Office the forests in Poland embrace over 9 million ha, which is an average ca. 0.25 ha per a citizen. As far as the ownership is concerned the forests managed by the National Forest Holding 'State Forests' (PGL LP) are the largest area and constitute 77.8 % of all forested terrain. It is over 7 million ha. In these forests there is a forest service. And these forests serve the whole society, and so each of us. The remaining forests are private - several hundred thousand owners. The wood resources of the State Forests amount to over 1.8 billion m3. It is an average ca. 262 m3 wood per a forest hectare. The State Forests are headed by the Director General, 17 Regional Directorates, 431 Forest Districts and ca. 6,000 foresters. The basic organisational unit is the forest inspectorate with supportive units - forest districts. The inspectorate embraces an average ca. 16,400 ha whereas the district - 1,200 ha. Forest inspectors and foresters are directly responsible for the properties, which are only estimated in wood stocks. Taking the present average price, i.e., ca. 160 zloty per m3, the property in an average inspectorate is on the level of 650 million zloty and in a district - on the level of 48 million zloty. Therefore, the State Forests manage huge national properties, estimated only by the accumulated wood reserves on the level of almost 300 billion zloty. The State Forests employ ca. 26,000 people. Besides the State Forests create the possibility of over 80,000 work places, mainly in rural areas, for those working in forests or producing objects from wood.
In accordance with the provisions of the Act on Forests, the forest inspectorates are managed on the basis of a ten-year plan, called forest management plan. Its aim is to conduct forest economy oriented on forest protection through its use. The State Forests are to exert beneficial influence on living conditions and people's health thanks to the planned sustainable use. They are to participate in delivering good air, good water, to ensure relax possibilities and use of wild forest plants, animals and mushrooms. These aims are financed mainly from the sale of wood resources. Particular forest inspectorates, because of their natural-social conditions (the necessity of large afforestation, predominance of young forest stand, protective forest around big cities) vary as far as their revenues are concerned. Some of them are loss-making although they serve the society. Thanks to the Forest Fund, collected on the central level, at the disposal of the Director General of the State Forests, it is possible to support these loss-making inspectorates. Thanks to that they can realise protection of forests and thus serve the society. The Forest Fund is also a money reserve that can be used to remove damages after catastrophes, e.g., fires or pest infestation.
The forest resources of the State Forests have been created thanks to the solid and consistent work of foresters. From the beginning of the Second Polish Republic, although we used wood, mushrooms, berries and animals all the time, the arboricity increased and the wood resources were enlarged. During the period of the Polish People's Republic the solid work of foresters continued. In 1945, after the war that had devastated the Polish forests, the wood stock in the state forests amounted to 906 million m3 whereas nowadays it is estimated to be 1.8 billion m3. Millions of people use forests freely and their profits from forest fruit and mushrooms are estimated to be approximately two million zloty a year.
The Polish forestry has always been a hierarchical institution. During the Second Polish Republic foresters were the rural elites, together with land owners, clergy, teachers and medical services. Responsibility, respect for authority and its hierarchy, hospitality and faithfulness to 'God, Honour, Homeland' were the characteristics of this patriotism-oriented profession. Working in the rural environment means collaboration with the local people and one needs authority for that. To gain authority is, naturally, to belong to the local elite, which was ensured by high salaries, relative to the value of the managed property. During World War II all foresters were faithful to the only Polish government-in-exile. They paid high price for that during the occupation, both the German one and the Bolshevik one. Foresters were the second largest professional group that suffered the biggest losses in Katyn. The forest industry paid the same price after the end of World War II, and for the same reasons. The fear of forestry, the mentality of foresters, the possibility of the existence of some partisans' base, which the authorities of the Polish People's Republic had, was very big. For these reasons forestry was destroyed in accordance with some plans, including the destruction of foresters' authority. Before the war a forest inspector was a partner for a prefect of a district but in the 1970s the inspector often had to consider the opinions of several community secretaries, not mentioning the district or voivodship secretaries. Before the war the salaries of inspectors were a few times bigger than the average salary but during the period of the Polish People's Republic it was the reverse - much smaller than the average salary.
State Forests as an example of sustainable development
The successes of the Polish State Forests are the effects of the forest policy conducted consistently from 1924 when the State Forests were created by a decree of the President of the Second Republic. Two principles underlined this decision: the principle of increase of the forest resources that were to be used by society at the same time and the principle of self-financing. Briefly speaking, the State Forests were not to burden the state budget but paying taxes and creating work places they were to stimulate the economic development of the country. Therefore, they were to serve each of us, and these principles are valid until today. Therefore, the State Forests are an excellent example of the realisation of the conception of sustained development, which is so fashionable in the 'old fifteen' of the European Union. The State Forests ensure the possibility to use the natural resources - these resources serve man, and their number is increasing.
The successes of the State Forests are at the same time their deadly threat. 300 billion zloty, stored in the wood resources with the awareness that much more money can be gained from sand and gravel layers in forests, stimulates the imagination of liberal economic circles. Besides deforestation benefits can come from the change of the category of land use and for example, the change of forests into building areas. The temptation is big and leads to privatisation ideas. Recently the ruling coalition of the Civic Platform and the Polish Peasants' Party made such an attempt. It was a theoretically 'innocent' decision of the government to include the Polish State Forests into the public finance sector. Thus the State Forests could have lost the possibility to manage their own funds because they were to be managed by the minister of finance. Knowing the reality and needs of the state budget it would have occurred soon that the Polish State Forests had been loss-making and needed to be corrected and like the shipyards, banks or mass media - privatised.
But the society did not allow being deceived. The initiative of the Association for Poland's Balanced Development aiming at defending the State Forests was widely supported. A successful collection of signatures against including the State Forests into the public finance sector was organised and a referendum concerning this issue was demanded. Signatures were collected everywhere: in cities and villages, in offices, shops, in the streets and near churches. The employees of the State Forests, army units, hospitals, ministries, school pupils, students, pensioners, the unemployed, the circles of Radio Maryja, hunting circles, independent non-governmental organisations, combatants' organisations, trade unions and other associations collected signatures. The communications, for instance Radio Maryja, TV Trwam, 'Nasz Dziennik' and the weekly 'Niedziela,' informed about the action to collect signatures and the effects of the action. Within eight months 1.2 million signatures were collected, which was an average 5,000 signatures a day. The effect was satisfying. The ruling coalition pretended that nothing happened: they changed the decision silently and 'forgot' to mention about the idea to include the Polish State Forests in its long-term strategy of public finance sector for 2010 (the decision was to be realised in 2011). It does not mean that the danger is over. 'Forgetting' seems to be a pre-election deliberate activity since at the same time the Minister of Treasury Aleksander Grad stated in one of his last speeches that the State Forests would be certainly privatised.
Fifteen years ago, at the initiative of the national chaplain for foresters Bishop Edward Janiak, the first pilgrimage of foresters was held in Wroclaw. It was thanksgiving to the Mother of God for the fruit of last years and a presentation of requests for blessings for the next years. The pilgrimage was continued. The next meetings were held at Jasna Gora, widening the circles of participants - other professional groups connected with environment management joined the foresters. This year the participants of the pilgrimage thanked Our Lady of Jasna Gora for the next year of work for the protection and use of the natural resources. They also thanked for help in defending the Polish State Forests, asking for more protection. I think that the Polish State Forests will not forget who defended them and will faithfully serve their defenders - the society. They will remember that many defenders are very poor people for whom mushrooms and berries are many a time the only source of money and the purchase of wood for heating at the present prices can be big problems for them.
The Author is the head of the Laboratory of Evaluation and Assessment of Natural Resources of Warsaw University of Life Sciences, the chairman of the Association for Poland's Balanced Development, MP of the Law and Justice Party from constituency 19 Warsaw. He was the minister of environment in the government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski.