Confession of the Youngest Forest Officer
Thoughts of Ramūnas LUKOŠEVIČIUS, director of ŠalčininkaiForest Enterprise, on his service to the forest, foresters, profit and troubles of nature
A forest-covered paradise near Belarus. That is how many refer to the forests of Šalčia region. Šalčininkai Forest Enterprise is one of the most forest-covered enterprises in Lithuania, 49.5% of its territory is covered by forests, while the area of forest per capita equals to 2 ha and the growing stock volume per capita corresponds to 386 cubic meters (0.57 ha and 106 cubic meters per capita in the country).
The forest enterprise is famous for its Rūdninkai Forest and Gauja Sight-Seeing Natural Path. A year ago Ramūnas Lukoševičius took the lead of the forest enterprise. Though he has not yet created miracles, the outcomes of activities of a skillful manager and a demanding director have already come into light. The income of the enterprise has increased by several million within a year, and the former colleagues are surprised how he could have gone unnoticed before, even though the forests of Šalčia have known him for nearly a decade.
As soon as the questions of Business & Politics were answered, Ramūnas has made a friendly request: “Don’t write about me, write about the forests." We have agreed that the youngest forest officer in the country will tell about everything – his service to the forest, foresters, profit and troubles of nature – by himself. Let’s listen to his thoughts.
I was born in Suvalkija (the region south of the Nemunas River), there were no forests in the vicinity. The nearest forest was some eight kilometers from home. As I grew up I did not see forest but I was fond of nature.
Becoming a forester was a last-moment decision, when I had to decide what to study. I had doubts whether to become an agronomist or a forester. My mother advised me to choose the latter.
I realised as soon as the first year of study that my choice was right. I became immersed in the studies straightaway. I was particularly interested in dendrology, botany.
The dean, the current director of the college Albinas Tebėra helped me in finding my first job. I was “infected” with the forest disease – I spare neither time nor days. I work as much as needed, forest is my life. My job is also my hobby.
As a person rather than a specialist, I find forest to be that place where I want to be alone with myself. Some wishing to be alone go to the church and I go to the forest. Different troubles shatter the person into pieces – you start not to feel yourself. Forest helps me to come back to my own self, it helps to find a calm attitude towards situations.
What was my path to the forest enterprise director’s office? I graduated from the Bachelor’s study programme in 2001 and continued to study Master’s degree. In 2001, I started to work as the deputy forest guard of Kalvarija in Marijampolė Forest Enterprise. It took less than two years and the director of Marijampolė Forest Enterprise Kęstutis Bielskus invited me to work at the centre in the position of the engineer of forest management and use. I served in this position for about a year.
Afterwards, the former director of Šalčininkai Forest Enterprise Vigandas Kraujalis invited me to Šalčininkai to fill the position of the deputy director for forestry, hence, I have been in this forest enterprise since the end of 2002. I won the competition for the position of the director of the forest enterprise last year, thus, I have been in this position to this day. Bearing in mind that the year was marked by the economic recession, it was quite a challenge.
How is trust earned and how is authority acquired? I may speak in general. In my opinion, everything depends on the extent of work that you do. We all get as much as we deserve. I have achieved everything by hard work. The confidence and respect of the staff is also earned by hard work.
I prefer “linear" management. Tough I am a manager, I am not the best specialist of all fields. Hence, I try to search for agreement in communication with specialists. Their professional opinion is of great importance to me.
I can describe a forest enterprise as a unit with complex activities. Forest is an important ecosystem, hence, sustainable forestry should prevail, taking into consideration all parts in the ecosystem.
Different objectives are raised depending on the period. The latter period was difficult in terms of economic aspects. Nevertheless, we, foresters, always take the general ecosystem into consideration, we ensure sustainable forestry activities, when the used resources do not exceed the actual growth. All that determines the enduring value of our forestry.
We never forget social and public functions. Recreation has been one of priority branches of forestry for ten years already. Its goal is to increase forest attendance by targeting people to the most appropriate directions. Our forests host the places of reproduction of the western capercaillie, hence, we deliberately divert the flow of forest visitors away from those places in our activities of road building and creation of picnic areas.
Yet another function performed by foresters is fire safety. Such functions are beyond the functions of foresters in a number of countries. That is the job of firefighters. However, in such a case we may say that too many cooks spoil the broth. I believe that everything has to be in the same hands.
We are planning on completing the installation of fire surveillance cameras this year. There will be four of them. From economic perspective, that will allow saving 80%. We also hope that they will enable a more rapid identification of fire.
Why are there 43 forest enterprises in Lithuania today, but not 40 or 60? What is the optimal area of the forest enterprise to ensure successful forestry activities?
I can best evaluate my forest enterprise but I believe that a similar situation is in each enterprise. Everything is very easy to count: costs, income, functions. The area of Šalčininkai Forest Enterprise is definitely optimal. If there were more forestry districts, we would need more middle managers.
There were talks on the establishment of Visuomis Holding Company. How would have Lithuanian forests changed if the project had been implemented? It is hard to tell. All would depend on the people in the board.
How many specialists would there be who realise the entire complex of forest economy, the entire system? The number of fields is very broad: seed farming, planting stock, forest thinning and a number of others, which do not bring any earnings, only immense costs. The economist may decide to refuse a number of such fields, and thus reduce costs. No one would really feel that in the first year. The process is really long. That would become apparent in a number of years and it would be difficult to change something. The goal of sustainable forestry is to leave something for future generations.
Recreation plays a rather insignificant role in Šalčininkai Forest Enterprise in terms of both costs and works. Forest enterprises in Lithuania are divided into zones by their applicability for recreation. We fall to the lowest zone of the category. Recreation in Šalčininkai Forest Enterprise is berry and mushroom picking. That is very seasonal, but people are frequent visitors during the season of berries and mushrooms.
We do not have water bodies, hence, there is no need to establish picnic places. The situation in Aukštaitija region is the opposite. However, costs for fire safety are on the increase. Our state and private forests are very dry. Pine forests prevail. Fire safety definitely requires hard work and considerable resources.
The level of reforestation is our forest enterprise is as high as elsewhere in Lithuania. The cut forests are reforested by high quality selectively bred planting stock. Roads are quite an acute problem. The same forest roads often connect state and private forests. When the snow melts we try not to use the road. Some private forest owners also try not to spoil roads, but of course, not all of them.
How to present the forest enterprise in short? The forest enterprise has around 40 specialists and about 50 more workers during the season. We cut down around 85% of the general increment. According to the estimates of forest management, we could cut around 100 thousand. But we tend to save by cutting 80% of increment. The forest inventory is carried out once every ten years. This year we will have a new project of forest management – land plots will be re-estimated, more precise cutting norms established.
There are 28 ha of state forest and eight forestry districts in Šalčininkai Forest Enterprise. Forests of the forest enterprise border with the forests of Vilnius, Trakai, Valkininkai forestry districts and around 50% with the forests of Belarus.
On the average, around 3 thousand ha fall to a single forest district. In reality, the areas differ, there are forest enterprises with 2.5 thousand ha and 8 thousand ha. That depends on how compact the arrangement of forests is.
According to the norm established in Lithuania, from 1000 ha to 1500 ha fall to one forester. Our forest enterprise complies with the norm.
The economic crisis is already over. In 2009, our income reached nearly LTL 6 million, whereas last year it soared to nearly LTL 10 million. We may assert that 2010 was the year of economic recovery. We gained the profit of LTL 1.6 million. We are planning on gaining LTL 1 million more than last year.
In 2008–2009 the income reduced due to the reduced prices and the reduced scope of cuttings. Our working conditions are more complex because we are located on the very border of Lithuania and the main purchasers of wood are from Klaipėda, Alytus, Prienai regions. We incur great transportation costs.
How transparent is the selling of wood? It would be most transparent if we could install e-trade. We hope that e-trade will be applied in our forest enterprise as soon as the third quarter of this year.
Today most wood is sold by means of open tenders. Only retail sale takes place on the basis of the price list. Only e-trade can be more transparent and public when tenders are placed on the Internet, procurement procedure takes places in real time and everyone can see it.
How do the forests of this region distinguish from others? Its most characteristic feature is fire risk. Unfortunately, it is very popular here to burn grass. In spring when the land gets a bit drier, the entire district drowns in smoke. The people of the region have very peculiar attitudes towards the maintenance of their environment.
Canoe tourism is getting more and more popular in our rivers, however, at the same time we face the problem of waste. The same applies to mushroom picking season. The person goes mushrooming with a full basket, leaves waste in the forest and places mushrooms into the basket.
Our forests, Rūdininkai forest, have been inhabited by capercaillies and black-cocks since the old times. Bird lovers often visit the places of their courting; they are not very difficult to access.
The centre of attraction is Gauja Sightseeing Forest Path. This natural path with rare species of plants may be of interest to flaura specialists. This beautiful place, which also has picnic places, is an excellent leisure spot for visitors.
What is my opinion on the control of the Directorate-General of State Forests? Is the Directorate and other authorities interested in our forest enterprise? The director-general is a strong personality striving for goals – to maintain the system, to protect forests from devastation. His strong-will is fascinating – we can learn from him how we need to bow our thanks to forests.
We feel significant attention of the Directorate-General. If required, each specialist is available for a professional discussion, the deputies are always willing to advise.
Which season of the year is the hardest? I can say that the best time is autumn with the so called Indian summer. It is very hard to work during a hot summer season. Everything calms down in winter and the results of the jobs done become more apparent. We may admire nature. Each season brings its own jobs – we plant in spring, we extinguish fire in summer, w calculate what we planted and what survived in autumn, we prepare wood all year round.
Do I experience tension at work? How does a forester feel faced by ongoing responsibility for the forest? I told myself and my colleagues on the first days that we would not achieve anything without hard work and team. You can be the best manager, but if there is no team, that will lead nowhere.
I gathered my team of specialists throughout the entire year. Today there are new people, excellent specialists in a number of fields: chief forester, chief engineer, other foresters. When a manager can share his burden of works with reliable specialists and confides in them unconditionally, the results get better.
Are there enough legal acts defining the job of the Directorate-General and other forest enterprises? There is a law on forests and a strategy. Unfortunately, not everyone reads such documents properly.
A long-term strategy is lacking most of all. The goal must be clear to everyone. Now different objectives are raised depending on fashion winds. Each new government must have a clear strategy grounded on science.
What can be done to make the person aware that he is always welcome in the forest, but he should not forget his duties to the forest as well? We have to start with children.
There is a group called Young Forest Friends, which starts teaching children the knowledge of nature and responsibility since the first grades. That is one of the solutions.
Where did I start my job as a director of forest enterprise? First, I had to think of the enterprise economics. I took cuttings and sales into my hands. I later found competent specialists and assigned the jobs to them.
The manager of a forest enterprise is like a coach of a basketball team: I need to see the whole and to select the necessary players. There are cases when a player is good but he plays in a wrong position. The main criterion is hard-work.
When we saw the outcomes of our job at the end of last year, many realised that the good results are due to the work of each of them. It is important to realise that the results are not up to the manager alone but each one of us.