Forests are lithuania’s wealth
“Lithuania. A state at the center of Europe” 2013
General Forest Manager
Many people who come to Lithuania for the first time and who travel around the country are impressed by the lush, green forests and the ancient woodlands untouched by man. These are one of the country’s greatest assets. Today, a third of the country is covered by forests, and every year they increase, because much less is cut down than what grows, and felled forests are immediately replanted. At the same time, the age structure of the forests improves, as do their stability and productivity. The forests are cultivated in order to increase their economic, ecological and social value. Timber is by no means the only product of the forests: researchers estimate that it is only a small part of the benefits provided by woodlands, which is easily exceeded by other aspects that are very important to humanity. Lithuania’s forests are rich in their biodiversity, and have an important social and recreational value, for they are full of interesting sites to visit. The forests contribute greatly to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, they protect and enrich the waters of lakes and rivers, they prevent soil erosion, and they beautify and enhance the landscape. More than half of the forests are owned by the State, and about 40% are privately owned. A third of the state forests are protected areas.
The 2012 assessment of Lithuania by Yale Univeristy confirmed the fact that the country has created and developed an appropriate and sustainable framework for developing forestry. In their Environmental Performance Index (EPI), scientists at Yale, one of the oldest and best-known universities in the USA, announced that Lithuania is the best out of 132 countries at preserving its forests. The country was assesssed according to three criteria: changes in the volume of standing timber from 1995 to 2010, the felling of forests between 2000 and 2010, and the creation of new forests between 2000 and 2010. This is a significant achievement, not only for Lithuania’s forests, but also for their management. It is good news, and obliges each one of us to continue in our commitment to looking after the State forests, and to continue to work in them professionally.
The main objective of the forest management is to increase the value of the State forests as a state asset. This runs contrary to increasing the return on the capital, because if that increases too rapidly it begins to erode the value of the capital. We have managed to maintain a balance in State forests by using modern forestry technology. In 2012, a research group under Professor Antanas Buračas from Aleksandras Stulginskis University established that the Lithuanian forestry sector generates one of the largest returns on capital among European States. It makes up 16.3%.
Over the last ten years, tree felling in all kinds of forests in Lithuania, both private and State owned, has accounted for about six to seven million cubic metres of timber every year, a 50% increment. This is consistent with the aims of sustainable forest management (SFM), whereby the amount of timber felled does not exceed the gains. This pattern of forest husbandry is also planned to continue in the future.
In 2002, the government approved the Programme Reforestation. The programme envisaged an increase of 3% in the extent of the forests by 2020, and this aim has already been achieved. In over a decade, from 2001 to 2012, almost 13,000 hectares of new forest were planted, and over that period the forest coverage across the country increased from 30.9% to 33.3%. The area of the State forests increased by 75,000 hectares, or 7.4 %, and the volume of timber increased by 36 million cubic metres. Not only the State forests but also the privately owned forests increased.
As the amount of forests increased, so did the state’s assets and their value. Scientists estimate that in the last decade, just by the increment of all the timber that was not felled, and without counting the creation of new forests by planting, the value of Lithuania’s State-owned forests increased by a billion litas.
The State forests invest heavily in modern nurseries, where more than 90 % of seedlings for creating forests and new planting are raised. Greenhouses and watering systems have helped to modernise the nurseries and to increase their size. At more than 70 million a year, enough seedlings are grown to plant new forests and to replace the felled timber, and many are sold to the owners of private forests, and exported to Latvia and Sweden.
Our foresters are also the European leaders according to other indicators. Having created an effective fire detection and extinguishing system, the foresters of the Lithuanian State Forest Sector are the only foresters in Europe, and maybe in the world, who put out forest fires themselves. The system has recently been modernised, with the development of an automatic ground fire detection system that helps to effectively localise outbreaks of fire. Now forestry workers can get to the outbreak of a fire in no more than ten or 15 minutes, and the fire is usually extinguished with basic firefighting equipment. If that is not enough, the fire service comes quickly. Thanks to the success of the fire detection and extinguishing system, foresters sometimes joke that in Lithuania forests do not burn down.
The Lithuanian State forestry sector works highly efficiently. In 1995, the figure for taxes paid by the State forest management for its activities and was seven million litas; in 2012 it was 92.7 million litas. Overall, the forest management pays out 42% of its income in state taxes. No European Union foresters pay such a large proportion of taxes.
Stability and a long-term plan are necessary in order for the State forest system to work successfully and to provide various benefits to the country. We should be glad that the foresters, specialists and managers of forest enterprises do a good job, and that they understand the needs and objectives of forestry. In Lithuania, the forests are looked after by the Ministry of the Environment. The General Forest Management and the State Forest Sector discuss and sometimes express differing opinions on certain aspects of forestry; however, a consensus is always reached on all points. The National Forestry Sector Development Programme for 2012–2020, which was prepared and approved in 2012, is the main strategic document setting out the plans for the management of forests until the year 2020. The programme envisages increasing the benefits provided by forests to society, taking account of the long duration of the growth of forests and different forms and interactions of ownership, as well as ensuring the implementation of principles of sustainable forest management (SFM) in all the country’s forests. It emphasises the importance of long-term sustainability over economic, social and environmental aspects. The objects pursued in the programme include the following more detailed aims: to preserve and enrich Lithuania’s forests and their resources, to ensure the rational use of forest resources, and to increase timber productivity; to increase the economic efficiency and competitiveness of forestry; and to preserve and improve the sustainability of forest ecosystems, taking into account their ecological and social roles, and the effects of climate change. The programme envisages a sufficiently strong basis for the coherent, balanced and sensitive development of forestry, and how this programme is achieved will depend on the individual input made by each one of us.
There is still scope for Lithuania’s forests to develop. There might not be such a sharp rise as there has been in recent decades, since 1990 when the forest cover increased by almost 3% (resulting from the change of land use and the planting of new forests); however, the extent of new forests will continue to increase in the future. Forests were, still are, and will be the greatest asset of every country and its people, and we must nurture and protect them for future generations.