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Municipal forests

7. December 2019 | Ratiboř

Article title

Management of municipal forests.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is probably a waste of time to discuss the current situation in the forests in detail. Information is continuously and abundantly supplied by all the media, so you all know what is going on.

We have been dealing with a bark beetle calamity in the forests owned by our municipality for five years now. All efforts to slow down or stop the bark beetles have come to naught. The forests are so weakened by prolonged drought that their natural defence mechanisms are virtually non-existent. Bark beetle-infested trees can defend themselves, provided they have enough moisture and sap, by sealing the beetles in the bark with resin. Last year, when the drought was progressing, it was possible to sit on a fresh spruce stump without getting your trousers dirty, because there was virtually no resin in them... Technical means of destroying bark beetles, such as the much-questioned "some kind of spray", can only be used on felled timber; for standing trees it is impossible both technically and legislatively. There is only one defence against bark beetles in standing trees - rain.

Theold spruce stands, or rather the remnants of them, are already so chewed through that if a strong wind blows from any direction, we have our work cut out for us again, and that by working out the breaks and twists.

That is why, at the beginning of this year, following an external survey carried out by a government authority and given to us with a favourable opinion, we proceeded with a vigorous logging operation in these broken and bark beetle-infested stands with the sole aim of: to snatch what they could from the beetles and to put the timber on the market during the first quarter, because, based on forecasts of the development of the bark beetle calamity in Central Europe, it was assumed that the timber market would be saturated by the middle of the year. We were successful in this step. While the timber trade did not collapse as predicted, we did not have to experience the problems of falling prices and a calamity progressing faster than we were able to cope with during the summer months.

We are harvesting heavily and will continue to harvest next year. There is nothing else we can do. We have extracted in the last two years what we should have extracted in seven years.

The seriousness of the situation in the forests was finally realised this year by the relevant ministries. We have seen several legislative changes, the most important of which for us at the moment is the fact that in April the so-called calamity zones were established throughout the country, in which the way of management was substantially relaxed. The Ratibora cadastre was included in the calamity zone during the month of August, until which time we probably did not have a problem from the point of view of the state, and this was preceded by the intervention of the mayor at the Ministry of Agriculture. The inclusion of the Ratiboř cadastre in the calamity zone gives all forest owners in the cadastre the opportunity to carry out afforestation within five years of the creation of the clearing instead of the current two years, the limit for the so-called securing of crops is shifted to ten years and, until 31 December 2022, planting material of any origin and from any vegetation stage within the Czech Republic can be used for ameliorative and strengthening trees. Attention, this does not apply to planting material imported from abroad! At the end of the article, I provide links to the full text of these "Measures of a general nature" for interested parties, not only forest owners.Another of the concessions brought about by this legislative change is the possibility of leaving unforested strips in the middle of calamity clearings over 2 ha in size, as well as leaving strips on the border between forest and agricultural land without afforestation for the creation of so-called vegetation covers, but we do not intend to practice this in municipal forests.

I fully agree with the mayor's view, who said:
"We have taken over the forests and we will hand over the forests."

However, it will not be easy. Across the country there are suddenly a lot of forestry experts, especially behind computer keyboards, who all know that spruce stands need to be replaced by something else, but no one knows what to plant. It is not as simple as it looks. Beech and fir are the hit of the moment. But alas. Reforesting large calamitous clearings with these trees is a problem because they need shade when they are young and hot, dry open areas are not good for them. We are already struggling with this in the groves we have reforested near the village. Beech seedling establishment in such areas is poor, with hardly any growth. We are lucky enough to have oak growing quite well on a number of sites. It is already at the upper limit of its natural range as a thermophilous tree species, but it is growing. It tolerates the aforementioned conditions well in large clearings, but it has another problem. If we are talking about three main calamity pests in spruce, the list is much longer in oak. And the next generation of foresters might one day hold us responsible for planting it en masse.

Also, no one knows what the weather will bring up in the future. We are therefore not going to experiment with alien tree species.

So... we're planting as many deciduous trees as possible, of course. The reasons are twofold: a change in the species composition of the future forest and subsidies. But we still have about two thirds of spruce stands of all age classes. We are currently receiving subsidies for broadleaf planting that cover almost all the costs associated with planting. The proportion of the area reforested with broadleaves and fir in this year's afforestation is two-thirds, with the remainder made up of pine and spruce. Yes, we are also planting spruce. We are still maintaining its area planted at somewhere around 20 per cent. Some of you are probably tapping your foreheads right now, because spruce is almost a dirty word these days. One of the reasons why we do this is that spruce woodlands grow back very quickly compared to other tree species. But spruce wood will also soon be in short supply, no matter what anyone says, it is indispensable to the economy at the moment and will be balanced by gold in the future.

Growing new stands on the calamity areas is the absolute priority at the moment. If the current spruce plantations prove unsuitable in the future, the next generation will have the opportunity to replace them with other tree species and use the spruce pulp for Christmas trees or energy chips.

I mentioned the planting of pine trees. It is a bit of an experiment. It has not been widespread in Ratiboř in recent times. But perhaps it is true that behind the name of our village there is also a pine forest, because the new plantations in the Dvorca area are growing well beyond expectations, as if they were at home here. However, we won't be seeing a larger area expansion from the pine tree anytime soon. There are not many suitable sites available at the moment.

When reforesting, we try to create larger areas planted with one tree species. This may look like creating monocultures, but it is not. We rotate areas of different trees. We choose larger areas becausein the future, there will certainly be an increase in the use of mechanisation in harvesting, and mixtures of trees or stands with a small area would make it very difficult to deploy.

This spring we started building fencing at our own expense to protect deciduous and fir plantations against wildlife. The cost of coating crops against biting is starting to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars and there is no shortage of labour to carry it out. We soon abandoned this, as the promise of subsidies for fencing the crops from the State Agricultural Fund for Agriculture and Rural Development appeared. This subsidy actually came out in the autumn of this year and we have been promised a subsidy for more than four kilometres of fencing. We will start building them next spring. If these subsidies come up in future years, we will try to use them again. While large fences will pose a significant restriction on movement through the municipal forests, there is no better solution. It will save us huge costs in chemical protection of crops against wildlife and faster grass growth, as well as the cost of cutting.

And money will be what it's all about in the future. We certainly can't do without subsidies. We are already trying to make the most of forestry subsidies. These include subsidies for planting improvement and strengthening trees, subsidies for improving the forest, for bringing in timber with horses and a timber balancer, for stand reconstruction, pruning and thinning, subsidies for natural regeneration and we would also like to obtain subsidies for the so-called securing of forestry crops. This is a relatively fat subsidy, provided in a lump sum when the trees have grown back for grass and game, provided that it is done within the time limit set by law. And this "premium" at the end is currently a strong motivation for us to take proper care of the wooded areas.

In November this year, the subsidy title "Mitigation of the impact of the forest fire calamity" was launched. The general title covers the payment of compensation to forest owners for the loss of harvested timber caused by bark beetle infestation and degradation and the fall in prices at the time of marketing. We have applied for this subsidy and, if it is granted, it will be a very good contribution to the municipal budget. However, the grant is conditional on a commitment to reforest and secure the clearings caused by the calamity within the timeframe laid down by the legislation. Given the amount of money to be paid out, it is to be expected that the state will rigorously monitor compliance with this condition. We therefore cannot afford to leave anything out in the care of wooded areas. It would be a disaster to return even a proportion of this subsidy.

Another subsidy that has been confirmed for next year is the subsidy for repairing forest roads. Thebark beetle calamity was adisaster for the roads , and the municipality is trying to repairsome sections of forest roads on its own, especially in areas where logging has stopped for a few years.

Despite the fact that the municipality has a lot of work and worries with the existing forest property, it is trying to buy more forest land, even if it is uncleared and unforested. The municipality has already purchased several parcels of land during this year.

In September this year, in cooperation with Foresta SG, a company from Vsetín, we had aerial photography of forest stands owned by the municipality carried out. The financing of this costly action will be carried out from a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture. It was not a traditional aerial photography, but an infrared photography. The output is very high resolution aerial images showing the viability of individual trees according to their chlorophyll status. Well, the whole science... I'm sure there is someone among you who knows better than me what we are talking about. But from these pictures it is clear even to a layman what the health of the forest stands looks like, because healthy trees have a different colour than dry ones and a different colour than those on the verge of life and death. After seeing them, I stopped having any illusions about old spruce stands. They don't look too good anymore, but it is pleasing to see that the young stands up to about 50 years of age are - with local exceptions, of course - in relatively good shape. This year's rather rainy weather may have helped.

Links to the abovementioned decrees

http://eagri.cz/public/web/file/620548/_18918_2019_MZE_16212.pdf
http://eagri.cz/public/web/file/631584/_41508_2019_MZE_16212.pdf

Libor Mořkovský
municipal gamekeeper

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