Poland's forests today cover 8.7 million hectares (equivalent to 28% of the country's total surface area). In the period 1946–93, forest cover increased by 7%, mainly due to very intensive afforestation of barren and low-profit agricultural land, but per capita forest area is declining and currently stands at 0.23 hectares. Wood density is still short of the optimal level established for Poland (30–34%), and lower than comparative figures for Europe (32%) and the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (31%).
Public authorities own most of the country's forests (83%), 82.1% of which are the property of the Treasury; 78.4% are managed by the State Forest Directorate, 2% by the national parks authority and 1.7% by other bodies. Gnimas (units of local government administration) own 0.9% of the forest area and private forests account for 17% of the total (of which 15.9% is owned by individuals, although their participation in the central and eastern parts of the country is much higher at 30–60%). State Forest Directorate holdings number 28,000 complexes, of which no more than 6,000 cover no more than 5 hectares. The total number of private forest holdings owned by individuals stands at 900,000, and the average size does not exceed one hectare. In addition, many private holdings may often be made up of several separate plots.
As a result of extensive deforestation in past centuries and very widespread post-war reafforestation, Poland's forests are highly fragmented and isolated. Today, 78% of the forest area is covered by coniferous stands, dominated by Scots pine (68%). Among the remaining 22% of deciduous stands, oak, ash, maple and elm account for 6%, birch 6%, alder 5%, beech 4% and other species less than 1%.
Poland's forests exhibit an imbalance in age structure: Young stands (up to 60 years) cover 65% of the total forest area, and the average age of stands in state forests is 55 years and in private forests 36 years. The current average standing volume totals 186 m3/hectare (201 m3/hectare in state forests and 118 m3/hectare in private forests). The total (over-bark) volume is estimated at 56 million m3.
STEPS TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE FOREST MANAGEMENT
The following legislative acts and directives refer to forests and forest-related activities in Poland:
The process of forest certification started towards the end of 1995 and the beginning of 1996, when a group of British wood product traders submitted an offer to certify the costs of firms submitting an application to operate in Poland's forests. Certification has been completed in four regional State Forest Directorates: Gdansk, Katowice, Krakow and Szczecinek. The total area of certified forests is 1589.3 thousand hectares, with assessments carried out by the Oxford-based SGS Forestry Organization under its QUALIFOR tool-testing programme.
Table 1: Certified forest areas in Poland
|Regional State Forest Directorate||Forest Area|
|Wood harvesting (in thousand m3 - 1995*)|
* Average annual wood harvesting can be assumed to remain at this level
Influence of forest certification on the wood market
ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE OF STATE FORESTS
State forest holdings are organised at three levels:
State Forest Directorate-General
17 Regional State Forest Directorates
438 Forest Inspectorates
Activities of state forest holdings are regulated by the Forest Act of 1991. The State Forest Directorate-General is responsible for forest policy and forest conditions, through the national and regional directorates as executive bodies. Regional state forest directors nominate the heads of their respective forest inspectorates, each of whom is responsible for autonomous forest management policies (approved by the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources and Forestry), forest conditions and decisions concerning cuttings, wood sales, investments and purchase of equipment. The forest inspectorate heads can also influence decisions concerning contractors. Wood prices are coordinated by State Forest Regional Directorates.
WOOD HARVESTING (IN STATE FOREST HOLDINGS)
The annual cut has recently run close to the permitted cutting level. In 1997, total harvesting amounted to 19.9 million m3 of roundwood (under bark), of which softwood accounted for 14.7 million m3 and hardwood 5.2 million m3. Final fellings account for 7.7 million m3 and intermediate fellings 12.2 m3. In intermediate fellings, 0.2 million m3 of wood is from cleanings and 3.3 million m3 from sanitary felling. The most popular wood harvesting method is the tree-length method (56% of total volume), followed by the whole-stem method (21%), cut-to-length method (18%), whole-tree method (3%) and chip harvesting (2%).
Manual and mechanised-manual operations dominate in wood harvesting. The level of mechanisation varies from type to type of wood harvesting methods as follows:
|Limbing and bucking||chainsaws||99.0%|
Trends in forest operations
THE ROLE OF PRIVATE ENTERPRISES IN POLAND'S FORESTRY ACTIVITIES
The transformation process started in 1990, with a few private enterprises being given the responsibility for executing most forestry work in a number of forest inspectorates. The most recent situation is illustrated in the following tables:
Table 1: Level of privatisation in state forests (1995-96)
|Activity||1995 (%)||1996 (%)||Difference|
(1996 over 1995)
|Reforestation and afforestation||57.94||79.56||+||21.62|
|Replanting and filling in||52.16||76.99||+||24.83|
|Wood harvesting (felling and processing)||51.42||76.15||+||24.73|
Table 2: Private enterprises (1996)
|Number of workers*||Number of enterprises|
* Total number of employed workers: 6,064 regular and 10,071 seasonal
Table 3: Structure of service offered for the benefit of state forests
|Timber felling and bucking||39.8|
|Silviculture and forest tending||27.6|
|Maintenance of forest objects||2.0|
According to the owners of private enterprises, the main barriers to development they face are the following:
A certification system for assessing contractors is being developed, with the objective of selecting and promoting firms that can offer permanent and high quality services. It is envisaged that representatives of state forest holdings, the association of private forest contractors and applicants will be involved.
The current level of mechanisation of wood harvesting operations is relatively low — the chainsaw is the basic tool in felling and limbing, and horses and farm tractors are the basic means of extraction.
Contractor firms are small (2–5 persons) and not usually well-equipped.
There should be an increase in the share of the cut-to-length method and the number of forwarding means (purpose-built forwarders and farm tractors with forest trailers), which are much less harmful to forests than other means used for ground extraction.
The promotion of planting medicinal plants after thinnings is an environmentally-friendly alternative and offers an opportunity for the regular tending of young stands.