Fierce argument erupts over state forestry giant contracts


A fierce battle has pitted environmentalists against plans for the long term management of the country’s biggest forestry company. Environmental groups say the plans basically give a blank cheque to big timber companies to exploit large areas with no real regard for nature preservation or the future of forests.

The Czech branch of Friends of the Earth, Hnutí Duha, has been leading the attack on the Ministry of Agriculture’s proposal on how state forestry company, Lesy ČR, should manage its forests in the future. There is indeed a lot at stake. The company manages a massive 1.3 million hectares, that’s bigger than the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. What the environmental group claims is that the plan only sees the wood, not the trees.

Vojtěch Kotecký is the group’s head campaigner.

“In reality, what the minister is proposing is that in the future all contracts in state forests— all contracts for all activities whether it is logging, planting trees, removal of timber and so on— will cover areas of thousands or tens of thousands of hectares and they will run for about 10 years. So basically one logging company will be responsible for all logging, the planting of all trees, all removal of timber and also all trade in timber in such a huge area and for such a long time.”

The environmentalists cite a report from the state auditing authority which showed that big forestry companies harvested around 40 percent more timber than they should have when they were given this sort of leeway in the past. And they say the model for managing forests is virtually unprecedented in the Czech Republic and outside with smaller, shorter and limited contracts preferred because they give more scope for the timber firms to be supervised.

“Every single private forestry company in the Czech Republic and every state in neighbouring countries do it this way with smaller contracts and they sell the timber themselves instead of letting the company which logs the trees sell them.”

The environmental group argues that some major timber companies have themselves come out against the ministry proposal saying it would amount to the destruction of state forests. It also claims that there was more than a hint that the mega timber contracts have been tailor made for companies with close links to the biggest party in the coalition government, the Civic Democrats.

The Ministry of Agriculture argues that big contracts bring in more money and are better suited to the state forestry companies’ limited resources.

On Wednesday the government again postponed any decision on the long term contracts, calling for input from the competition office amongst others. That is the second delay to the decision in a row. It is now beginning to look like the ministry will probably have to give ground to get this proposal through.