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SIMEONOV Atanas Iliev & KOVATCHEV Boris Kostov


In 1990, Bulgaria launched political changes aimed at introducing a market economy, primarily in the following sectors:


The total land area of Bulgaria is 110,550 km2, with some 27% covered by forests (33% of which belongs to the Forest Fund). The total population is 8,975,000, of which 68% lives in urban areas and 32% in rural areas (average population density 81 inhabitants/km2). The cultivated area totals 6.2 million hectares and forests cover more than three million hectares. Forest resources total 397 million sob (solid over-bark) or 122 m3 sob/hectare, and harvested wood totalled 3.5 million m3 in 1993, with sales revenues of US$ 117 million and 5% of round wood exported.

The contribution of the forestry sector to natural resource protection is significant, since the country's forests grow mostly on steep land on the upper slopes of watersheds and play a key role in preventing erosion and protecting the sources of the 3.4 billion m3 of water that is stored for irrigation, the municipal water supply and hydroelectric power.

Bulgarian forests are rich in biodiversity, and also have an important recreational function. This helps explain why forest management and financial policies are directed towards recognising the dual economic production and environmental roles of forestry. Table 1 provides selected data on forests in Bulgaria for the period 1960–96, and Table 2 offers a backward and forward look at the development of Bulgarian forests over the period 1955–2035.

All forest land is currently state-owned, although parliament introduced two items of important legislation at the end of 1997: a law for the restitution of former private forests and a new Forest Law. Ownership of former private forests will be returned to individuals or local authorities, mostly in small plots, a move that will call for changes in management and financing.

Forest volume is stable: in 1996, forests covered 3.7 million hectares (over 30% of the territory). The percentage of wooded areas is also stable, and currently stands at 28.4% of total land area. As a result of massive afforestation with coniferous species over the last 30 years, their relative share had risen from 16.7% in 1960 to 34% in 1990. However, the reverse occurred with broad-leaved species, which fell from 83.3% in 1960 to 66% in 1990. Forest areas with special functions (such as in water catchment areas, anti-erosion protection, green belts around towns, protected areas, national parks, reserves, belts along the Black Sea and the river Danube) grew from 10.3% of total forest area in 1960 to 39.8% in 1996, an almost four-fold increase.

Table 1: Selected data on forests in Bulgaria (1960–96)

Total forest area' 000 ha3,6353,6043,7433,7723,778
Afforested area' 000 ha3,1893,0673,2003,2583,355
Coniferous trees%16.726.533.134.035.0
Average ageyears3737384245
Average density 0.660.720.750.750.74
Total growing stock' 000 m3234,478257,638296,830396,022456,742
Growing stock per ham376.384.092.8122.4141.0
Total average increase' 000 m36,1526,4687,62010,91912,347
Average increase per ham31.932.112.383.373.8
Management planned utilization' 000 m36,6706,9186,5366,3685,264
Utilization realized' 000 m38,5677,1415,9074,6815,872
Utilization: % of management planned indicators%128103907490.4
Utilization: % of the increase%139110784347.6
Utilization per ham32.692.331.851.451.75
Utilization: % of growing stock%3.512.772.201.181.28
Production of saplingsMillion1,358767385400133
Specially designated forests%10.315.625.930.939.8

Table 2: Development of Bulgarian forests over the period 1955–2035

Afforested (woody) area (' 000 ha)3,1533,2813,3613,5533,443
Coniferous species441.4936.61,2661,6351,695
Volume of growing stock (' 00 m3)214,361274,626375,992432,491471,404
Coniferous species68,76695,315159,219240,481280,991
Growing stock per ha (m3)68.085.1111.9125.6136.6
Coniferous species155.8101.2125.7147.0165.7
Mean increment (' 000 m3)6,5527,0699,4009,8299,821
Mean increment per ha (m3)
Yield from main fellings (' 000 m3)5,9605,0053,8314,1804,083
Yield from thinnings (' 000 m3)1,7811,4121,2152,2943,091
Total yield/standing (' 000 m3)7,7426,4175,0456,4747,174
Percentage of growing stock volume3.
Percentage of mean increment118.290.853.765.973.1

Bulgaria's forests have a rather young average age (45 years in 1996) as a result of the felling of old stands and the presence of newly-established young forests.


In 1990, the area covered by forest was 3.3 million hectares. Serious deforestation occurred before World War II, and overcutting continued in the 1950s and 1960s. Following changes in forest policy, forest areas have been increasing since the beginning of the 1970s.

Forests comprise a wide variety of mixed conifer and broadleaved species, as well as high Alpine conifer forests and monocultures of conifer plantations. The different types of forest are divided as follows:

The total standing volume in 1990 was 397 million m3 sob, or 122 m3 sob/hectare. Of the standing stock, 31% consists of oak sub-species, 27% pine sub-species, 16% beech, 19% other broadleaved species and 7% other conifers.

About half of the oak and beech forests have been regenerated through coppicing. Conifers have a rather young age distribution, but broadleaves are better balanced. Further details of various features and aspects of Bulgarian forests and forestry can be found in the tables following the main text.

Since 1956, all forest districts have been covered by 10-year forest management plans under the AGROLES project. In principle, 10% of the districts are inventoried each year, and no management plan can be implemented without the approval of local managers and representatives of the municipalities concerned. A complete forest management plan covers one forest district (15,000-20,000 hectares) and contains a general description of environmental, climatic and soil conditions; a detailed description of each stand, with estimated stand parameters (such as species composition, yield class and standing volume) and recommended activities to be undertaken over the following 10-year period; district summaries regarding standing stock, age distribution and average yields; calculated annual allowable cut for the following 10-year period; and various maps, of which the stand map is the most important.

There are three principal silvicultural management regimes, corresponding to the three main forest types. These regimes have replaced the excessive focus on planting coniferous monocultures which had been the pattern in the 1950s and 1960s. Partly due to management regimes in the past, which did not always consider species selection appropriate, annual increment at 3.37 m3/hectare is lower than for other Central and Eastern European countries.

Most broadleaved and coniferous high forests (55% of total forest area) are regenerated naturally, in some cases with supplementary seeding. In some areas, natural regeneration of conifers gives very good results, especially for pines and fir, but in other areas where the soil cover prevents an obstacle to natural regeneration, planting is necessary. Where this has taken place, both the techniques and the materials used have been satisfactory. The number of seedlings planted per hectare is higher than normal but not as excessive as in some other Eastern European countries.

Traditionally, most of Bulgaria's broadleaved forests were regenerated by coppicing (23% of total forest area). This system has major advantages, in terms of very low regeneration costs and a quick start for the new generation. Areas managed on a short rotation system provide good production of fuelwood and fodder for livestock. In 1992, the area under coppice management was 23.5% of the total forest area. Since many of these forests are approaching the end of their natural lives, government policy is to convert them into high forests through seed regeneration, either through a natural process or through artificial seeding on the site of the old coppice. Most coppice forests contain varieties of oak (such as Quercus petrae, Quercus trainetto and Quercus cerris). Costs are modest since the gradual harvesting of shading trees produces compensatory income, but conversion is a very lengthy process, similar to that of natural regeneration. There are a number of good reasons for converting traditional coppice forests into high forests: when coppice management has been practised for many centuries, the root system becomes less responsive, the proportion of high value timber diminishes and trees tend to become more vulnerable to drought and pests. In the long term, conversion forests will continue to constitute a valuable resource for wood production, as well as for recreation and biodiversity.

Reconstruction forests cover 17.8% of the total forest area and consist of mixed forest that has been badly degraded through excessive harvesting or over-grazing. Reconstruction is a very long-term investment in terms of wood production, but gives shorter-term benefits in terms of soil protection and improved microclimate. This approach is frequently adopted in erodible watersheds.

The proportion of thinnings in total harvesting has increased since 1960, but not at a pace conducive to increasing the value of future production and healthy stands. The reasons for some of the shortfall in thinnings lie in limited markets for small wood and lack of funds for silviculture, but the situation is also a function of restrictive criteria for determining when thinning should be carried out according to silvicultural instructions. Thinnings are an important tool for increasing stand value and keeping it healthy.

Since 1991, there has been a general ban on clearcuts, except in reconstruction forests. In all other mature forests, regeneration must be well established before the last mature trees can be removed. Although the ban is understandable as a way of securing a regime devoted to natural processes, it may be excessively rigid on some sites.

There is a considerable amount of illegal harvesting, although there is no concrete evidence. The situation may deteriorate as large portions of forest land are restituted to their former owners. Effective implementation of an authorized licensing system for logging and transport should help minimize the problem.

Bulgaria also suffers from a serious problem of die-back in oak and pine forests. This may be due to one or more of the following factors:

The die-back affects mostly the western parts of the country, particularly pine forests in the region of Bekovica. The volume of sanitary cuts totalled over 30,000 hectares in 1993, compared to 2,000 hectares in 1985. Oak has a particular problem since forests have been based on coppice regeneration, sometimes over a number of centuries, which is likely to have weakened the deep roots that are important for water intake. Experience in other countries where oak coppicing has been practised for a long time has shown similar effects. Oaks are nearing the end of their natural life cycle and are therefore more vulnerable to drought, pests and disease. Trees hit by die-back are often vulnerable to insects, with the most serious damage caused by Tamatopea pitiocampa (a moth whose caterpillar eats pine needles) and Tortrix viridana (a moth that principally attacks the leaves of oak and other broadleaved trees).

Forest fires have increased dramatically in recent years. In 1992, the area affected (5,243 hectares) was about 10 times higher than the average for the previous 10 years, and in 1993 the area burned rose to 17,264 hectares. This upward trend appears to be continuing. Drought is probably the main reason for this increase, but reduced thinnings cause by funding constraints have also increased vulnerability to fires spreading. Other factors, such as dissatisfied local populations, may also play a role. Since fire control and early warning systems are inadequate, a high funding priority should be installation of adequate fire control systems and forest management techniques such as pruning and thinning in areas at high risk.

Since 1986, the Forest Research Institute of Bulgaria has been measuring defoliation according to the norms established by the FAO European Forestry Commission. Defoliation is one indicator of air pollution, and there has been a general trend towards greater defoliation in the country, although there are considerable differences among species. Young pines and oak are the worst affected, but oak defoliation is likely to be the result of die-back rather than air pollution. Beech forests are the healthiest. Despite the seriousness of the extent of defoliation, however, the level is still lower than in countries like Slovakia or Poland.

A major cause of the poor health of Bulgarian forests in recent years has been climate change, in particular an increase in dry summers. In the period 1981–88, Bulgaria had considerable less average rainfall (10%) than in the period 1930–75, and this phenomenon increased with altitude, where the highest value trees are sited. According to surveys conducted by the United Kingdom Meteorological office, rainfall may decline even further. Based on simulated consequences of carbon dioxide levels, estimates have been made of future rainfall levels in Bulgaria and, even if only some of these forecasts were to materialize, the situation for forests would become very serious, particularly for large pine plantations that are at the limit of their natural habitat.

The heavy overcutting of Bulgarian forests before World War II, that continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s, explains why the current focus of forest management is on restoration of high forests.

Harvests have fallen as a result of weakened demand for wood due to domestic and worldwide recession in the timber industry. At 3.5 million m3, the 1993 harvest was 28% lower than the allowable cutting level: about 75% was broadleaved and 25% coniferous wood. Sawlogs and fuelwood accounted for 90% of total harvest, and industrial wood only 10%. These figures contrast with an overall harvest of 4.4 million m3 in 1990, of which sawlogs accounted for 41%, industrial wood 15%, and fuelwood 41%.

Virtually all cutting is done with chainsaws, although axes are also used for some delimbing operations. Sawlogs are the most profitable product; their share of the total harvest depends on the quality of management during the growing period, in particular in the pruning and thinning phases. Transport of industrial wood within forests is done by tractors and skidders (90%), cable systems (7%) and horses and oxen (3%). Manual transport of wood, by sliding it down short steep slopes, is also carried out. About 70% of the areas to be harvested in the future will be on steep terrain with slope gradients of 25% or more.

Average road density is only 8 m/hectare, and in some districts as low as 3 m/hectare. The average terrain transport distance is 880 m, varying from 300 to 2,000 m/hectare. Around 80% of roads are unsurfaced (so-called summer roads) and 20% are all-weather roads (surfaced with asphalt or concrete). Some areas, classified by the National Forestry Board as ‘closed areas’, are without access. Due to budget constraints, road construction programmes have been greatly reduced in recent years. Transport of logs from the roadside to final user (the wood industry) is the responsibility of private trucking companies or the wood industry itself, a system that offers flexibility and competition.

Non-wood products from forest estates are important in terms of both traditional cultural values and as sources of income. The major non-wood products include snails, lime leaves, herbs and spices, mushrooms (dry, fresh, frozen or in juice), wild fruits, game, meat and Christmas trees. In 1993, export sales — mainly from snails and mushrooms — totalled US$ 6 million, and export taxes generated from non-wood products amounted to about 10 million Leva. At present, district divisions buy these products from licensed local collectors at fixed prices and sell them, mostly to exporters.

Over 10 million hectares (90% of total land area) are used for hunting. The National Forestry Board manages and uses about 16% of this hunting area (half the total forest area); the remaining 84% is managed by the Union of Hunters and Fishermen, whose members total 92,500 and may hunt in the union's hunting areas. About 400–500 tonnes of wild game meat (mainly red deer, roe deer, wild boar and pheasant) are exported and 100 tonnes consumed by the domestic market each year. Local hunters consume about 1,000 tonnes per year and unregistered kills may amount to a further 700 tonnes per year. Game management focuses on hunting rather than meat production; in fact, Bulgaria holds world records for red deer, wild cat and wild boar hunting, and trout fishing. Red and fallow deer and mouflon are mostly killed by international hunters, and roe deer and wild boar (the most abundant species) by local hunters.


A radical reform of forestry policy has been under way in Bulgaria since 1991, with the aim of defining new methods of work to ensure that human forest activities are in line with natural forest growth and the new economic order in the country. In this context, the following guidelines and measures have been introduced:


Reform of Bulgarian forestry and forest management has won support from both the experienced core of specialists and the public at large. Parliament recently passed two important laws: the Restitution Law covering the restitution of former (pre-1947) private forests and the Forest Law, both of which are politically important. Prior to 1947, the forest ownership was as follows:

Table 3: Forest ownership breakdown pre-1947

OwnershipNumber of unitsForest area
(million ha)
Non-forest area
(million ha)
(million ha)
State       856764198  96226.5
Local authorities
    6,0591,659  321  1,980   54.7
Schools       536  1510  25  0.7
Religious establishments       499  2412  36  1.0
Cooperatives         71  19  8  27  0.7
Private (> 50 ha)       153  5112  63  1.7
Private (< 50 ha)472,5035032552814.7
(Total private)(472656)(554)(37)(591)(16.4)

The Restitution Law envisages two principal activities: restituting property within demarcated boundaries where these already exist, and restituting land where boundaries can be defined, on the basis of demonstrable priority.

The Forest Law is based on the following priorities:


The National Forestry Board of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Agrarian Reform is the executive body with primary responsibility for developing and implementing forest policy. The board's mandate includes:

In practice, implementation of the National Forestry Board's mandate is carried out by its regional and district organizations. The Ministry of Environment and Waters has final responsibility for environmental protection, including:

The Ministry of Industry has overall responsibility for the wood processing industry, in which most former state-owned companies have been privatized and a number of them are run with the participation of foreign enterprises.

Most non-governmental organizations have been established relatively recently but are prepared to take on greater responsibility for management of natural resources. Many are actively involved in issues concerning the management of Bulgarian forests and, in particular, the management of protected areas.

Forestry research in Bulgaria is carried out mainly by the Forest Research Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Science. The institute receives funding from the state budget through the academy to cover the costs of employees' salaries, but equipment, material and other costs have to be met from other sources. To date, these costs have been covered through the execution of specific research projects, most of which have been financed by the National Forestry Board.

The Higher Forest Technical University at the Ministry of Higher Education is responsible for higher education in the forestry sector. The university is sub-divided into the Forest Faculty (including silviculture, nature protection and landscape architecture) and the Wood Technology Faculty. Both train forest engineers over a five-year academic term. The academy runs in-house training and refresher courses at the request of the National Forestry Board. There are also five technical and six vocational schools for the training of forest workers, all of which are financed by the National Forestry Board, although in terms of administration they depend on the Ministry of Education. In addition, there are two specific schools for in-service training.

Table 4: Land use and forestry: comparative data - 1990

Total land area per capitaha/capita    1.2  1.0
Forest and other wooded land per capitaha/capita    0.4  0.3
Forest and wooded land as % of total land area:%  35.032.7
of which, exploitable closed forest%  86.073.8
of which, publicly owned%100.052.7
of which, privately owned%-47.3
of which, under management plan%100.046.3
Growing stock in exploitable closed forestm3s.o.b./ha121.7120.0  
of which, coniferous%  39.063.2
of which, broadleaved%  61.036.8
Net annual increment   
per hectare of exploitable closed forestm3s.o.b./ha    2.6  3.7
percentage of growing stock%    2.2  3.1

Table 5: Historical development of forested areas by species (in m3)

Species1960196519701975198019851990% in 1990
Conifers534,332717,568812,307930,2501,058,085   1,091,157   1,099,081   33.7
Poplar  23,791  38,209  34,211  27,186  25,187  23,381  22,320  0.7
Conv. High     253,261378,44511.6
Conv. Low581,040667,541725,184738,542727,910488,498371,87111.4
Low coppice641,535  62,343  69,225  77,294  96,751102,181107,885  3.3
Total3,213,532   3,087,606   3,100,805   3,161,444   3,225,123   3,252,750   3,259,078   100.0   

Table 6: Areas and volumes of forest activities

YearHarvesting areas and volumesReforestationTransformationReconstructionSilviculture maintenance
 AreasThinningsFinal CutTotal Cut High forestLow forest  
Final Cut
(m3 s.o.b.)(m3 s.o.b./ha)(m3 s.o.b.)(m3 s.o.b./ha)(m3 s.o.b.)(ha)(ha)(ha)(ha)(ha)
1980119,035  31,2861,385,73911.64,644,601148.56,030,34040,3243,60992317,148115,865
198467,95641,2371,364,07320.14,115,244  99.85,479,31732,2233,73047713,584114,243
198574,69642,6581,422,92619.04,202,000  98.55,624,92632,3113,88781516,034112,620
199069,05127,5591,439,42920.83,315,849120.34,755,27828,2062,3392119,381 95,386
199160,76222,7961,202,76819.82,430489106.63,633,25716,1611,7742207,665 -
199280,32626,6461,708,16921.32,524,082  94.74,232,25114,2811,5303067,672 74,118
199376,33427,3491,926,22625.22,605065  95.34,531,29111,7481,2312615,587 63,054
 1,089,278     464,941  20,584,628  18.950,947,713   109.671,532,341  413,530  47,0077,475170,1381,382,425
 77,80633,2101,470,331 3,639,122 5,109,45329,5383,35853412,15398,745

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