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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.


Legal framework

The following legislative acts and directives refer to forests and forest-related activities in Poland:

Forest certification

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 DirectorateForest Area
(thousand hectares)
Wood harvesting (in thousand m3 - 1995*)
(small-sized wood)
275.1  818.4  755.9
166.7  441.4  421.1
1589.3  5071.04679.6

* Average annual wood harvesting can be assumed to remain at this level

Influence of forest certification on the wood market


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.


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 buckingchainsaws99.0%
Extractionmechanical extraction60.0%
horse extraction40.0%
Transportmechanical means100.0%

Trends in forest operations

  1. A continuous increase in the share of the cut-to-length method and number of forwarding and multi-function machines due to lower costs and less forest damage.
  2. Installation of cable systems in mountainous regions.
  3. Burning of log residuals in clear cuttings replaced by chopping or crushing.
  4. A tendency towards the market economy in thinning, where tending operations are carried out only if there is a demand for wood, especially in early thinnings.
  5. Over-supply of workforce is a limiting factor in the development of highly-mechanised forest operations.


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)

Activity1995 (%)1996 (%)Difference
(1996 over 1995)
Reforestation and afforestation57.9479.56+ 21.62
Replanting and filling in52.1676.99+24.83
Forest tending46.7376.39+ 26.66
Wood harvesting (felling and processing)51.4276.15+ 24.73
Wood extraction76.6079.28+ 2.68

Table 2: Private enterprises (1996)

Number of workers*Number of enterprises
21–50  53
>50    7

* 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 bucking39.8
Wood extraction13.8
Wood haulage  3.5
Silviculture and forest tending27.6
Forest protection  9.5
Maintenance of forest objects  2.0
Trade activities  0.8
Other  3.0

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.


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