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ROBEK Robert & MARENCE Jurij


Slovenia abounds in forests, and forestry has a long tradition in the country. Although small, the country has distinctive natural and social conditions that have attracted environmental concern since the introduction of mechanized forest operations. In 1989, when large-scale political and social change started, marking the beginning of the period of transition, demands were made for a repeal of the 1985 Forestry Law. These demands were accompanied by different ideas about forestry reorganization leading to a radical change in forestry relations and formalized in the 1993 Forest Law. The new legislation divided the forestry sector into the Slovenian Forest Service and a series of forest enterprises. In the same year, denationalization was introduced, launching changes in ownership structures. A special law recognized state ownership of public forests under the management of the Slovenian Agricultural Land and Forest Fund. Recently, a proposal has been submitted to parliament for the creation of a Chamber of Forestry and Agriculture (owners' union), indicating that the private sector will soon be formally organized.

Although the post-1993 period should have seen stabilization, new structures raised numerous problems at a practical level. Declarations concerning the environmental impact of logging and road construction in managed forests were not followed up with adequate action.

This paper on the past and present situation in Slovenian forestry, with an emphasis on the environmental aspects of forest operations, draws on a number of existing publications5.


Since 1989, there has been a slight increase in the total land area of Slovenia under forest, mainly due to the progressive abandoning of agricultural land (see Table 1). Up to May 1993, each of the 14 management units of Slovenia's public forests (407,000 hectares or 38% of all forests) was managed by a forest enterprise, responsible for all activities within these forests, including the sale of timber. They also performed forest service functions because, in addition to managing the private forests, they also prepared uniform forest plans for all forests and provided guidelines for all forests regardless of ownership.

5 Košir, B (1996) ‘Forest contractors and their operations during the transition period’ in Proceedings of the International Symposium on Progress in Forest Operations, 7–8 May 1996, Ljubljana; Pogačnik, N (1997) ‘Forest enterprises in a time of transition’, Slovenian Forestry Institute, Ljubljana; Robek, R (1997) ‘Environmental impact procedures in forest communication planning’, Slovenian Journal of Forestry, 54, 7–8; Robek, R (1997) ‘Towards environmentally friendly forestry techniques in Slovenia’, Slovenian Forestry Institute; Winkler, I and Krajčič, D (1998) ‘Concessions for forestry work in state forests’ in Proceedings of the FAO/ECE/ILO Seminar on Improving Working Conditions and Increasing Productivity in Forestry; and Winkler, I and Marenče, J (1998) ‘Efficiency of forestry under new social and economic conditions’, Slovenian Journal of Forestry, 56, 1.

Table 1: Slovenia's forests and forestry during transition

Total surface area (ha)2.025.4002,025,400
Forest area (%)5154
Private forest areax (%)6267
Forest enterprises (number)14106
Public forest service employees (number)6,009755
Forest enterprise employees (number)1,979
Private owners (number)>250,000>250,000

x Denationalization is under review

On introduction of the new Forest Law, the forest service was organized as a special public service, responsible for all forests regardless of ownership. This service is responsible for increasing and ensuring public interest in the preservation and development of forests and for providing guidelines for the management of all forests. As with all other former public enterprises, the operation components of forest enterprises were privatized and most of them organized as joint stock companies. This was the period in which the number of professional staff in the forestry sector declined significantly.

Under denationalization, the proportion of state forests is gradually decreasing. By the end of 1996, 1,098,844 hectares of land were under forest, 67% of which privately owned. It is estimated that on completion of denationalization, the proportion of private forests will have risen to 77%. The average size of forest property is only 2.7 hectares, although almost 53% of owners possess less than one hectare; 33.7% own forests up to 5 hectares, 10.7% forests of between 5 and 15 hectares, and 3% forest property larger than 15 hectares, accounting for 26% of total private forest property.

Table 2: Breakdown of private forest ownership (1987)6

Forest size
< 1 hectare8.652.7
1–4.9 hectares31.033.7
5–14.9 hectares34.410.7
15–29.9 hectares16.42.2
> 30 hectares9.60.7

Since 1993, forest owners have taken on full responsibility for the management of private forests, but this has raised problems since few are properly trained or prepared for forest work and lack the necessary technical equipment. Furthermore, the forest is not usually their main source of income and they are often interested only in reaping short-term benefits. A conflict between private and public interest has become inevitable, although this conflict has taken place at the political level and not at the level of the environmental acceptability of forest operations.

6 Source: Winkler, I and Medved, M (1996) Osnovni podatki anketiranja lastnikov gozdov v letu 1995, Slovenian Forestry Institute.


In Slovenia, most logging operations have traditionally been carried out using tractors (see Table 3), operating on constructed forest roads and skid trails. Cable systems are common in mountainous areas, but overall constitute a constantly low percentage of logging techniques.

Table 3: Structure of logging techniques (1986–97)

Skidding technology1986
Manual11  910  7  8
Animal11  3  1  2  2
Cable systems  4  5  5  4  6
Total100  100  100  100  100  

Transition in itself has not changed the structure of logging technology but it has had a significant impact on those who work in forests and on the quality of work. A wide range of individuals and bodies have entered the forest production process, from private forest owners and their neighbours and relatives to self-employed businessmen, craftsmen, limited liability and joint stock companies, former forest enterprises in the process of privatization and agri-forest cooperatives.

To date, statistics exist only for legally registered companies. An analysis was carried out in 1996 of the means at the disposal of contractors in forest operations, based on an inventory compiled by the Statistical Office of Slovenia7, which revealed that 42 of the 178 potential respondents answered a questionnaire, including all forest enterprises (active in all phases of production and thus best equipped and most professionally qualified), contractors involved in only one phase of production, contractors not qualified for forest work and others. The results showed that 25% of the respondents possessed 90% of the entire stock of harvesting, skidding and construction equipment. Subsequently, large quantities of this equipment were sold to former workers, who in turn became contractors. Most often, they remain legally and/or commercially tied to forest enterprises, but the efficiency and quality of work in the sector is decreasing and the black labour market is threatening forest enterprises.

Damage to trees, habitat and soil are common negative consequences of logging operations and road construction. Reducing the negative impact of logging operations must necessarily be effected throughout the entire production chain (preparation, performance and quality control). However, today it has become clear that during the transition process environmental issues have been neglected in a number of sectors of forest operations. To meet the requirements of the European Union and other international standards, Slovenia must classify and readdress environmental issues in the field of forestry.

7 Košir, B (1996) ‘Forest contractors and their operations during the transition period’ in Proceedings of the International Symposium on Progress in Forest Operations, 7–8 May 1996.


State forests

All state forests are managed by the Slovenian Agricultural Land and Forest Fund, but the fund is not responsible for operational management. It must contract out work in state forests to qualified enterprises on a contract or concession basis. Forest work under concession comprises operations in the sectors of wood production, silviculture and environmental protection, construction and maintenance of skidding tracks, and sale of forest timber.

The privatization and reorganization of concessionaires into joint stock companies has been delayed due to disagreement over the size and duration of concessions. To date, concessions for work in state forests have been granted to 16 former forest enterprises employing about 2,000 workers (90% of all forestry employees). Besides working in state forests, they are also involved in work in private forests, in buying and selling timber, in timber transport, in maintenance and construction of forest roads, in maintenance of forest machinery and, in some cases, in primary wood processing.

Activities in state forests are based on detailed plans for logging units and technical documentation for road construction. Logging plans are furnished by the Slovenian Forest Service and road construction documentation by investors. In both cases, work is supervised by the Forest Service and an inspection officer.

A major problem regarding the environmental suitability of registered concessionaires is that it is expected that only 20% of state forests will be properly managed in the near future. To this should be added the following considerations:

Private forests

The efficiency, work safety standards and environmental adaptability of work in scattered private forests are low. Small properties cannot produce economically positive yields, even when using the best technology, and production costs cannot be covered by sales. For medium-sized forests (greater than 30 hectares), positive results can be envisaged providing tractors with forestry attachments are used, but it is only the larger forests that allow owners to use different wood production techniques and yield a profit8.

Due to poor training, a growing number of accidents have occurred in the private forest sector, and detailed investigation9 of technological conditions in private forests under transition indicate that the majority of forest owners are unaware of the impact of logging on the environment (see Figure). The larger the property, the higher the level of environmental awareness of owners. However, owners of more than 15 hectares of forest are in a minority, and the small private forests are characterized by

8 Winkler, I and Marene, J (1998) ‘Efficiency of forestry under new social and economic conditions’, Slovenian Journal of Forestry, 56, 1.
9 Winkler, I and Medved, M (1996) Osnovni podatki anketiranja lastnikov gozdov v letu 1995, Slovenian Forestry Institute.

Public forestry service and non-forestry sector

Relations among the Slovenian Forest Service, the Slovenian Agricultural Land and Forest Fund and forest enterprises have become very complicated under transition, and this reflects on environmental concerns. Since the Slovenian Forest Service is the key body for managing forests, environmental issues are its main concern. Forestry enterprises, on the other hand, are market-oriented and their concern for the environment is conditioned by the level of public interest. The quality of forest work reflects on site and stand conditions, and ‘good’ products are the most commercial.

Poor understanding of the nature and limits of forest work extends beyond the forestry sector alone, raising a question concerning the best position for ‘new’ forestry in government structures. Throughout Europe, more and more countries are creating special ministries for natural resources and environmental protection, transferring competence for these issues from sub-divisions within ministries of agriculture.

A major step towards environmentally sound forestry practices could lie in cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), although Slovenian NGOs have traditionally ignored forest operations, except on those occasions when there have been problems which they have tended to criticize without any well-based arguments. A public forest operations education programme is called for.

Science and education

The transition has led to changes not only in practice but also in forestry research and education. While the Slovenian Forest Service and concessionaires have been looking for co-existence, research activities have been hit by the worst crisis in 50 years, leading to a general regression in the sector (see Table 4).

Table 4: Changes in professional forestry support during transition

  1990  1996 
Number of researchers342356232043
Number of research hours50,40710,52863,22632,47310,70643,179

However, on the other side of the coin, ‘environmental concern in forest operations’ has developed as a new field of research. At university level, technical subjects have become more inter-disciplinary and at technical institute level, a number of environmentally-oriented technical projects have been started. Current challenges in this sector include:

The major obstacle to future development is the gap between scientific knowledge and the willingness of people who actually work to cooperate in the simplification and implementation of existing knowledge.


In the relatively short period of 10 years, Slovenia's forests have undergone ‘tectonic’ changes that will leave a significant mark. In practice, forest operations cover the planning, implementation and supervision of forest exploitation and opening. Although the environmental aspects of forest work are gaining importance, the situation is not completely satisfactory. Forest enterprises and the Slovenian Forest Service are still searching for a bridge between the philosophy and the technology of environmentally sound forest operations. Research requires better cooperation in practice.

In the future, cost-effective solutions must combine the experience of everyday practice with knowledge acquired in the study of the negative effects of forest techniques, in order to answer the questions:

The basis for environmentally sound forest operations lies in application of legislation, and the key to progress lies in closer cooperation among the major forestry bodies, forest companies and target forest owner groups.

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