FORESTS AND GOVERNMENTS
The State Forests have been praised for 90 years. Because they could represent the Polish statehood and be the symbol of the independent economy in the Second Polish Republic
In 1924 president of Poland Stanisław Wojciechowski established the enterprise ‘Polish State Forests’ whose first director was Adam Loret, a legend of the Polish modern forestry. His vision of the future of Polish forests and the way of managing them endured – although not without occasional perturbation – a trial of time. According to this nearly age Polish ‘philosophy of forestry’ the forest is to have – and it has naturally, if it is not destroyed, or robbed – many functions, whereas wood production is one of them. It sounds perfect with today’s directives of the European Union, which pays the primary attention to nature-creating values of forests.
Good kings take care of forests
For whole centuries forests near the Vistula (and sometimes also the ones situated further to the east) were a very tasty morsel, a source of great income. Wood from near the Vistula has always been highly appreciated. It was exported through marine routes (as well as derived products – tart, tar, potash) to the West. At that time it was really a good business. However owners of forests (especially lessees) were not so far-sighted in order to guarantee renewability of this richness for the good of their grandchildren. Wise kings were trying to save the situation – in XII century in Poland there appeared first regulations restricting felling.
In the XVIII and XIX centuries the developing industry took its toll, especially mining, railways and papermaking absorbing enormous amount of wood. At that time invaders were managing economy which was extremely wasteful in Polish forests. And it caused a situation when in the beginning of XX century forestry on the areas of the Polish Kingdom was nearly 15 per cent and these were forests of very low quality. For next decades there have also been visible wounds after the so-called easements which gave peasants a right to graze cattle and sheep in forests (which had a very bad influence on trees growth) and firewood collection. However, forest cover was not due to liquidation of easements in the Second Polish Republic – that is, giving peasants forests for renunciation of free using them. Unfortunately, these and other private forests became a symbol of irrational forest economy.
The Second Polish Republic
At the beginning of Poland’s independence, forests on its area were in a very poor state. Luckily, there were Polish foresters – well educated and experienced – trying to take care about Polish forests under the management of invaders because today every Polish forester knows that he plants a forest not for those who govern but for future generations, for grandchildren. And, unfortunately, every real forester also knows how helpless he is towards those who govern.
In the 30s of the last century the average woodiness within the borders of independent Poland was about 22 per cent and the state forests took about 38 per cent of the whole forestry area. However, the growth of the forestry area was hardly possible in the young independent country, in the years 1923-37 even about 1 per cent of forestry decrease was registered. The reason for it was the excessive exploitation in private forests, thanks to liberalized provisions about forests protection ( in 1932 the novelized act about forests allowed owners of forests of the area to 50 ha to utilize them without any economic plan). Just before the war, however, the provisions were restricted.
When in 1924 the enterprise Polish State Forests were established, it was not aimed only at protecting forest resources, but, first of all, using their richness, aimed at saving the young country plunged in the economic crisis. Foresters understood the need of commercialization of forest economy, however, within possibilities – in the thicket of continuously changing provisions, decrees and regulations – they were trying to utilize it reasonably, for the sake of a forest mainly. pre-war State Forests were institutionally taking care of 95 per cent of all Polish areas of the protected nature (isolated protective forests, national parks, reserves and monuments of nature protection). Nobody else, but just foresters made attempts in 1921 to establish the national park in Puszcza Białowieska.
Polish People’s Republic – a pre-war plan
Pre-war legal regulations, especially the ones concerning forestry finances, turned out to be so beneficial for the country, that they were still binding for 5 years after the war, in completely different conditions of the system. Only was the Act about the forestry economy of 1949 which repealed the provisions. As a result of system changes, there was also a clear enlargement of the area of state forests
After the second world war, because of the predatory economy of the invader – in order to maintain economy and martial potential of the Third Reich – and later the destructive action of fronts passing through Poland, woodiness within new borders was only 20.8 per cent. It was disadvantegous especially for forests on the area of the General Governor, especially in central Poland (hardly forested anyway) and these western ones were rather saved. Absolutely maximum using the wood base was controlled by the general governor Hans Frank.
In the first ten years of the Polish People’s Republic, Polish foresters gave a good example of renewing forests. In the years 1946-70 thousand foresters were foresting over 1.2 million ha which made 27.0 per cent of woodiness of the country. But Polish People’s Republic had high expectations; Polish forests were to be not so much a support for the whole economy, but a pillar of industry. At some time, even organizational units of the State Forests became nearly literally enterprises of industrial type, whose main purpose ‘executing the plan’, that is, gaining wood in the sizes often beyond the limits of reason. Luckily, it was connected with compulsory increase of afforestation.
The whole history of forestry of that period is one big tangle of reforms, transformations, reorganizations, whose purpose, however, has never been national richness protection. Forests have never been the national treasure so much as governmental piggy bank, from which big money was successively taken out, and also it was often carelessly broken, certainly for the sake of Polish People’s Republic.
The Third Polish Republic – the third assassination on forests
The Third Polish Republic inherited about 28 per cent of woodiness of the country. It is still significantly less than in nearly all neighbouring countries. In 1995 the Ministry Council accepted ‘the National program of woodiness enlargement’, anticipating its growth to 30 per cent in 2020 and 33 per cent in 2050. As the Main Statistics Office informs, 29.3 per cent were achieved till the year 2012, but in fact, 30 per cent have already been exceeded (it has not been revealed in statistics, because private owners of forested areas did not reclassify them into the forestry ones).
Therefore, today it is said that ‘green empire of forests takes nearly one third area of the area of Poland’, and everything is greedily valued into money. And unlike in their 90 years of their history, the State Forests are inconvenient – which is the biggest state forestry organization in Europe, managing 77.4 per cent of all forestry areas in Poland. The State Forests are often accused of the fact that it is ‘a country in the country’, which is wrong because this self-financing company is dependent on the political game carried out over it. In the Third Polish Republic there is an opinion that the supreme management of the Forests is recruiting from the groups of the governing party so, it is being strictly controlled.
In forestry there is a characteristic business-like trick even today. At the times of the Second Polish Republic respect towards business hierarchy was equivalent to the respect towards free homeland. In the Polish People’s Republic the respect resulted mainly from fear about life and it is completely similar in the Third Polish Republic we must admit that now even the supreme decision-makers often allow for less or more clear manifesting their opinions incompatible with the ideas of the authority.
In the beginning of the year 2014, somehow surprisingly, parliamentarians from the governing coalition of the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Alliance outvoted the novelization of the act which obliges the State Forests to pay 1.6 milliard zlotys to the state budget in the years 1014-15. The government decided to assign the means for building and rebuilding local roads – it is surely within the coquetry before the approaching local elections. In fact, it is not known if and when this money will reach to lucky addressees. What is certain, is the fact that the Forests are getting significantly poorer. The management board of the State Forests has little to say, as usually, whereas foresters are protesting (although they have little to lose). It is not the first such situation in the Third Polish Republic.
Calling in the wilderness
The first protests of foresters and the society took place at the end of the 90s, when the government of AWS-UW submitted the idea of privatization and re-privatization of state forests. If the illusions of politicians had turned true, today we would not be boasting to Europe about the exemplary pursue of the balanced forestry policy – say experts.
The second assassination on the State Forests (and in fact on the existence of the forests as such) was attempted to do in 2010, when the government of Donald Tusk submitted an idea of including them into the sector of public finances, which would, undoubtedly, be good for these finances, but harmful the whole forestry nature. Luckily, it was one of many proposals of the government, known for many imperishable ideas.
Unfortunately, the third idea was implemented insidiously, before, it was revealed to the public opinion, in addition, with omitting the binding law. The rule of not imposing tax or any public fees during the tax year was ignored. Imposing a fee on the Forests, binding from the year 2014 should be enacted not later than in November this year. Whereas, the amendment was implemented during the tax year of 2014! Moreover, the whole legislative mode has been grossly breached; there was not any social consultation or interdepartmental agreements. The Sejm beat a record of efficient action: it has been two weeks since submitting a project to its final enactment, and the very procedure lasted 27 hours! Critical analysis of experts of forestry economy turned out to be a calling in the wilderness.
Foresters associated in the NSZZ ‘Solidarity’ and the Movement of Polish Forests Protection (which was formally established in 2000 as a reaction to the earlier attempts of privatization) accuse the government of unconstitutional proceeding. They also suspect that it is another inauguration of a well tried-out scenario of privatization through bankruptcy in the Third Polish Republic.
Surely, the first victim of the forestry extortion will be a forestry nature. Polish State Forests are the first in Europe to be realizing the model of the permanently balanced forestry economy, that is, they are taking care of the nature (it does not belong to the range of their duties, but is a statutory duty of the state budget). It entails high costs. There is nothing to conceal that financial cuts are the quickest to force savings just in this extra range. Even if felling is not radically increased – which is not, luckily, possible, or if the government finds a solution in the binding provisions – then the Polish forests will be dying out anyway. And this can be the beginning of this national richness, which often appeared to help Poland – it gave its valuable fee in order to support rebuilding of the country after big historical cataclysms. This time after a few years of the government of the coalition of the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Alliance.