Czech state forest boss felled amid calamitous bark beetle infestation

Daniel Szórád, photo: CTK

The head of the state-owned forestry company Lesy ČR, Daniel Szórád, has been sacked by the Minister of Agriculture in resignation Jiří Mílek. The reason? The continuing calamitous impact of bark beetle infestation in state forests and the former boss’s apparent inability to do something about it.

Daniel Szórád,  photo: CTK
Although there are hundreds of timber producers in the Czech Republic, state-owned Lesy ČR is the biggest. In recent years, the company took a hit, with lumber production affected by the serious problem of bark beetle infestation. In 2016, some 70 percent of trees felled were so-called calamity timber – trees were there is no option but to fell due to damage, as opposed to quality timber which would yield better prices.

And the crisis continued. Last year, the state forestry firm’s profits shrank by almost a third as the bark beetle crisis worsened and the glut of timber worsened. Lesy ČR is usually a significant contributor to the state coffers, but those payments have been slipping for several years now. The bark beetle crisis is now reckoned to the most severe in recent Czech history meaning that there’s no likelihood of a rapid upturn in the company’s fortunes.

Announcing the sacking of Szórád, minister Mílek called the state of Czech forests “critical” and who said too little had been done to prevent the spread of bark beetle infestation in Moravia and that a far more pro-active approach was what had been missing.

He also went to pains to underline the decision to remove Mr Szórád, who was appointed by his predecessor Milan Jurečka in the former Social Democrat-led government, was in no way political.

In his defence, the sacked head of Lesy ČR said the firm had been hit by one bad wave after another of the infestation during repeated heat waves. Minister Mílek said the problem had been an ineffective reaction to developments from the former head, who had stayed the course rather than adapt to the infestation calamity on his hands.

Photo: CTK
Agriculture Minister Jiří Mílek:

“We had a calamity last autumn, but we pressed forward according to out-of-date amendments, more and more green trees were stereotypically felled, then we had another calamity in March. All of the wood I just spoke of was to have been processed by the end of March and wasn’t, and unfortunately in some places will serve as a breeding ground for more and more bark beetles.”

The Agriculture Minister intends to name Ludvík Řičář, who heads Lesy ČR’s Liberec branch, as crisis manager.

The fired head of Lesy ČR held the post since April 2014. In the past he also worked in IKEA Industry. He said he accepted the decision, saying he never claimed to be “the best candidate for the job in the world”.