Instead of protecting the environment, its degradation. Polish forests will be the main victim of EU regulations

Photo: Anna Wiejak

On March 21, the European Commission presented the final version of the guidelines for forest management and biodiversity conservation. Despite the protests of Polish foresters, there are provisions emphasizing leaving forests to natural processes, which will lead to their extinction. This document, as well as the entire EU “Strategy for biodiversity until 2030”, will hit Polish forests the hardest, as they are largely state-owned.

The document indicates the natural regeneration of forests as appropriate, however, it does not exclude the necessity of afforestation of certain areas, although it does not precisely specify which ones, which gives a lot of room for interpretation of these provisions. On the one hand, it encourages natural regeneration where possible, and on the other hand, it allows for the possibility of afforestation.

“Compared to extensive plantation programmes, restoring native forests has proven to be a
better way of promoting biodiversity and more efficiently providing critical ecosystem services such as carbon storage, soil erosion control and water provisioning” – we read in guidlines.

“Keep trees damaged by wind (including windfalls) as much possible on site. Possible pest infestations should be controlled or excluded. This is relevant for reforestation” – the authors of the document state, although Polish best practices provide for the removal of most windbreaks. “Keep dead wood of as many different species and sizes as possible. Pay particular attention to dead wood of under-represented species. Fire and phytosanitary risks and relevant related mandatory prescriptions should be taken into account (relevant for reforestation)” – they add. “Natural regeneration makes greater use of the strong potential of nature and preserves the genetic diversity of the forests. This in turn is linked to their resistance and vitality, and should therefore be favoured” – they try to convince. In their opinion, artificial plantings should only be a possible supplement to the natural processes of forest regeneration. They also demand the protection of the EU’s primary and old forests. Paradoxically, in the same document they also write about the need to absorb CO2 by forests. The problem is that trees over the age of 60 become carbon emitters, not sinks, so the authors of these guidelines are contradicting themselves.

Analyzes indicate threats

A key objective of the EU biodiversity strategy will be to strictly protect 10% of land area, 37% of which is are forests. Achieving the intended goal will therefore require strict protection of approx. 27 percent EU forest area. According to the communication from the European Commission, hunting, fishing and forestry as well as “extraction practices” will be prohibited in these areas.

As emphasized by the authors of the analysis provided to the AWPE portal by Bartłomiej Obajtek, director of the Regional Directorate of State Forests in Gdańsk, “currently in Poland, 185,000 hectares of forests are in national parks, less than half of which are under strict protection. Reserves, in turn, occupy an area of 169 thousand hectares and the vast majority of them are strictly protected forest lands. Therefore, the implementation of the goal will mean placing under strict protection new areas of at least 2.7 million hectares. Most likely, these will be forests owned by the State Treasury (managed by the State Forests – PGL LP)”. Achieving the above goal will be implemented on the basis of state forests, which means that 72 percent of of EU state forests would be under strict protection.

“Other scenarios cannot be ruled out, e.g. that extensive forest complexes will be covered by strict protection, e.g. primeval forests: Białowieża, Knyszyńska, Augustów, Romnicka, Borecka, Piska, Goleniowska, Kozienicka, Świętokrzyska, Sandomierska, Solska, Masurian forests, Oliwsko- Darżlubskie Forests, Roztocze, Janowskie Forests, Forests of the Przemyskie Foothills and the Słonne Mountains, Bieszczady, mountain forests in individual bands of the Beskids, Bory Lubuskie and Dolnośląskie – until the assumed level of 3.1 million ha of strictly protected areas is reached. The mixed scenario is also possible, which would exclude both single stands (fragments of forest) and entire forest complexes” – we read in the analysis.

The authors of the report emphasize that “one should be aware that strict protection means the inability to prevent forest dieback, to reconstruct stands with the wrong species composition, and the inability to implement some active protection measures included in the PZO in the above-mentioned stands”. Fires and invasions of pests, including various species of bark beetles, are a threat to strictly protected forest areas. “Due to the rapid pace of change, forests are unable to spontaneously and evolutionarily adapt to the changing climate. For this reason, they require appropriate adaptation measures understood as active protection” – the experts note. “For many species associated with living trees (mammals, birds, amphibians, lichens, fungi), the disappearance of the entire forest will mean that their populations will no longer be able to function” – they emphasize.

It is therefore clear that the EU biodiversity strategy will have a negative impact on the environment and will lead to its degradation instead of the assumed protection. Anyway, we had a foretaste of this already in Poland during the dispute over the Białowieża Forest – the effect of the EU “environmental protection” was not only huge material losses, but also the degradation of the forest complex.

They want to move the wood industry outside the EU?

The authors of the analysis of the effects of the EU biodiversity strategy on forestry and the wood sector warn that EU regulations will hit the Polish wood industry.

“If the above-mentioned goal is achieved only on the basis of forests managed by the State Forests, it will be necessary to provide strict protection to 40 percent of the area of State Treasury forests in Poland. Such a scenario would mean the need to exclude additional approximately 2.75 million hectares of forests from use. As a result, implementation of strict protection on an area of 2.75 million hectares, there may be a decrease in the acquisition of wood raw material in PGL LP by up to 50% (proportionally to the acquisition of raw material in individual age classes), i.e. by about 20 million m3. The decrease in revenues may be even greater, because the most valuable assortments are harvested in older stands” – they enumerate. Of course, the result will be an increase in unemployment, an increase in the prices of wooden products and it will affect the condition of all cooperators in the wood industry.

The analyzes concerning other EU countries are no better. “Modelling international roundwood production leakage using the Global Forests Products Model GFPM projects an overall roundwood production decrease of 42 % in the EU-27 for the year 2050. Increased roundwood production in non-EU countries would compensate for 73 % of the decreased roundwood production in the EU. The remaining 27 % can be understood as price-induced reduction of wood products consumption. Until 2050 EU-27’s decreased roundwood production would mainly be offset by increased production in the USA. According to the modelling results, 26 % of decreased roundwood production are leaked to the USA. Further leakage occurs to Russia (12 %), Canada (9 %) und Brazil (8 %)” – we read in “Assessment of possible leakage effects of implementing EU COM proposals for the EU Biodiversity Strategy on forestry and forests in non-EU countries”. As a result, in areas where there is no EU law or certification, deforestation may occur due to over-exploitation of forests, which in the long term may have a significant impact on the environment, including climate change.

Anna Wiejak

Skip to content