Czech forestry in crisis

Czech landscape is rich in forests but they are ailling. Photo: Vít Pohanka, ČRo

Forests in the Czech Republic are suffering. Frequent periods of prolonged draught have weakened trees, leaving them prone to harmful bark beetle infestation. Moreover, severe storms in recent months and years damaged large areas of woodland and foresters have had to cut down many more trees than the sawmills are able to process. As a result, the price of wood has now fallen to a half of what it was a year ago. Vít Pohanka met foresters and experts from several European countries at a seminar they held in Czechia.

Czech landscape is rich in forests but they are ailling. Photo: Vít Pohanka,  ČRo

German mingles with English, you can hear Slovenian, Slovak and, of course, Czech. We’re in a forest near a small settlement of Kocanda in the heart of the densely wooded Bohemian-Moravian Highlands.

Right in the sections affected by recent storms they observe and discuss the ways local foresters try to grow new trees. Some of the dozens of participants are supporters or members of an organization called Pro Silva. “Silva” by the way, is Latin for “forest”. The president of Pro Silva is Eckart Senitza from neighboring Austria:

Eckart Senitza  (left) and Constantin Kinský. Photo: Vít Pohanka,  ČRo
„Pro Silva is a Europe-wide organization promoting close-to-nature forestry. We have members in the Mediterranean, most continental Europe, Baltic states, or Romania with its huge virgin forests so ours is a very wide-spread movement. Of course, the forests may look totally different here in the Czech Republic, Austria or Germany, and the Mediterranean. But we try to promote a common principle: use the power of natural processes to help build healthy forests.“

If forests, as we know them, are to have a future, the main responsibility lies with the forest industry. That applies to Czechia in Central Europe as anywhere else in Europe or the rest of the world. Eckart Senitza says balance is the keyword:

„That means paying attention to ecological aspects, as well as economic and social aspects. You always have to find a good balance. If you stick just to ecological care, you might get a fully protected forest that does not provide any social or business benefits. If you care only about the economic benefits, you may have an artificial forest plantation that will destroy the soil in three generations of trees. If you go just for the social benefits you will probably have a beautiful recreational area that does not provide any other benefits. So among these extremes, you have to find a middle position and a compromise that fits into your local situation.“

Dozens of forestry experts from several European countries met in Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. Photo: Vít Pohanka,  ČRo
The host of the meeting was Constantin Kinský, the owner of the forests that the experts were discussing. He is an investment banker born in French exile. But he is now taking care of the ancestral property and land that his family got back after the fall of communism in the early 1990s. With over 5 000 hectares or 12 000 acres of forests, he is one of the major private owners in Czechia. As such he has a unique chance to observe the damage caused by drought, storms and bark beetle infestation:

„Nature is changing, nature is angry. We need to help nature to find its path and the way to do that is to have more diversity of eco-types, long-term management techniques. The more we open up, the better chance we have in the future. Diversity is the best way to be careful in the forest and being careful is the best way to protect the forest.“

Forests in Czechia need more diversity. Photo: Vít Pohanka,  ČRo

Forests now cover some 34 percent of Czechia, a figure slightly under the European Union average. Even though the forested area is slightly growing, the trees are in general becoming more vulnerable and, without exaggeration, the forest industry not only in the Czech Republic has been going through a crisis for some time now. If it is to survive and have a sustainable future, it will need a new responsible way of thinking; but also the right legislation and understanding of the state and the society.