Government considers privatising Czech forests

Czechs are never happier than when they’re heading off into the woods with a basket for mushrooms and a pocket knife, and politicians have traditionally shied away from reforming how forests are owned and managed. So an announcement made by Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovic on Friday was surprising: the government, he said, was considering selling off some of the country’s state-owned forests to private companies. I spoke to Vojtech Kotecky of the Friends of the Earth organisation, which is very much against the idea.

“I think it would be bad for sustainable management of Czech forests because it would substantially limit the government’s ability to promote more non-productive functions of our forest, like recreation or promotion of biological diversity.”

So it would be difficult to control the private companies in terms of nature protection.

“The problem is that the government can set standards in forestry law for sustainable management. If the government owns the forests it can put sustainable limits over timber production and it can use management practices that wouldn’t be used in purely commercial forestry. For example to improve the health of our forests we need to reduce clear cutting and replace it with more sustainable harvesting methods.”

So what do you think are the main reasons behind the decision to privatise the forests?

“It seems that it is an immediate reaction of the minister to the chaos within the commercial relationships between the state forest company and private companies which provide it with services such as logging trees. There have been long-term conflicts over those contracts and many contractors sued the state forest company. Now it seems that the minister wants to avoid future discussion over the relationship between state forest and private contractors with simply selling the state forest.”

If the forests were in private hands, will it in any way limit the access of the public to the forests?

“No, the problem is not with the access of the public to the forests. We have the right to roam and everybody has got a right to enter private forest land. There has always been a tradition of state forests in the Czech Republic and no-one ever questioned that. And actually I don’t think that this proposal will be successful because it would meet with very strong reaction from the public and from the political parties.”