Lithuanian forests – a natural element of the Lithuanian landscape offering biodiversity, productivity and sustainability, providing timber, green energy, food products and opportunities for healthy recreation of the urban and rural people. According to data from the Lithuanian Statistical Yearbook of Forestry (2016), the total forest land area is 2,186,000 ha and covers 33.5 % of the country’s territory. Since the 1st January 2003, the forest land area has increased by 141,500 ha corresponding to 2.2% of the total forest cover. During the same period, forest stands expanded by 107,300 ha to 2,058,300 ha (see Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Forest coverage in Lithuania, 1938-2016
At the beginning of 2016, the distribution of forests by functional groups was as follows. Group I (strict nature reserves): 26,500 ha (1.2%); group II (ecosystem protection and recreational): 266,500 ha (12.2%); group III (protective): 333,400 ha (15.2%); and group IV (commercial): 1,560,300 ha (71.4%). Group IV commercial forests are split into a) commercial forests of normal cutting age, forming form productive forest stands and supplying wood continuously, following the requirements of environmental protection; and b) forest plantations, where the objective is to grow as much wood as possible in the shortest period of time. These are forests which consist of stands of fast-growing tree species with a cutting age of at least 15 years. Only stands with the same age class can be attributed to forest plantations. It is prohibited to plant forest plantations in non-plantation forest cutting areas.
Occupying 1,148,400 ha, coniferous stands prevail in Lithuania, covering 55.8% of the forest area and 44% are deciduous species. The most common tree species are Scots pine, Silver and Downy birch, Norway spruce, Black alder, Grey alder, Aspen and Oak (Fig.2).
Figure 2. Forest stands area by dominant tree species
They are followed by softwood deciduous forests (835,900 ha, 40.6%). Hardwood deciduous forests occupy 74,000 ha (3.6%). The total area of softwood deciduous forest land increased by 137,400 ha over the last thirteen years. The area of hardwood deciduous has decreased by 18,600 ha (mainly due to dieback of ash stands) and coniferous forest by 11,500 ha. Scots pine occupies the biggest share in Lithuanian forests – 716,000 ha. Compared to 2003, the area of pine expanded by 4,500 ha. Norway spruce stands covers 430,000 ha, with a reduction of 15,300 ha. Birch stands covers the largest area among deciduous trees. Since 2003, it increased by 65,500 ha and reached 457,700 ha by the 1st January 2016. Area of black alder increased by 33,600 ha, to 153,100 ha. The area of grey alder expanded by 600 ha i.e. essentially less than the black alder stands, reaching 122,600 ha. The area of aspen stands expanded by 32,400 to 89,700 ha. The area of oak stands increased from 35,700 ha to 44,900 ha. The area of ash stands diminished by half to 21,500 ha. The average forest area per capita increased to 0.76 ha. NFI data presents data since 2003, when inventory by the sampling method was implemented across the whole country.
Forest stock volume, increment and logging
The total growing stock volume is 537 million m3, while the gross annual increment is 19.3 million m3 (see Fig. 3)
Figure 3. Growing stock volume, 1938-2016
Standwise forest inventory underestimated the volume of stands by 10-15%, therefore the transition to the NFI was made. For this reason, a sudden increase in timber volumes and area of matured stands was observed since 2003. According to NFI data, since 2003 total growing stock volume increased from 453.4 million m³ up to 537.0 million m³. Pine stands accumulated growing stock of 221.0 million m³. In a period of thirteen years they accumulated 41.0 million m³.
The growing stock in spruce stand increased from 75.8 to 91.2 million m³. The volume of birch stands increased by 9.9 million m³ to 88.7 million m³. The stocks of black alder have risen by 14.6 million m³, reaching 52.3 million m³. 37.6 million m³ were accumulated in aspen stands and this volume practically is the same as twelve years ago. The volume of grey alder stands remained at the same level (22.3 million m³). Oak stands accumulated growing stock of 11.8 million m³. Ash stocks decreased more than twice and were 3.2 million m³. The average growing stock volume in all forests since 2003 increased by 28 m³/ha up to 254 m³/ha. The growing stock volume of mature stands in III-IV forest groups has increased from 109.9 to 147.3 million m³ in average 3 million m³ per year. The gross annual increment increased from 16.0 to 19.3 million m³ in average 9.2 m³/ha per year. The average growing stock volume per capita reached 186 m³.
The amount of prepared merchantable round wood decreased by 10% and amounted 6.7 million m³ in 2015.
Changes in felling rates in state forests were insignificant over last four years. The amount of round wood harvested in state forests totaled 3.8 million m³ in 2015. From this, 3.6 million were felled by enterprises themselves or by contractors, while stumpage sales made up 0.2 million m³ (see Fig. 4).
Figure 4. Fellings by forest ownership categories, 1990-2015
The volume from the final felling in state forests increased by 2% to 2.7 million m³. The share of the final felling constituted 72% in the total harvest (70% in 2014). For coniferous, the extent of final felling increased by 2% until 1,292,000 m³. The roundwood volume from final felling increased by 5% in spruce stands and decreased by 2% in pine stands. Volume of prepared wood in these stands amounted to 665,000 m³ and 627,000 m³ respectively. For non-coniferous, the round wood volume from final felling increased by 2%, to 1,447,000. Felling in birch stands grew up by 2% from 720,000 m³ to 738,000 m³. For aspen, the increase was 3% and removals totaled 334,000 m³. The prepared wood volume in black alder stands increased by 5% to 291,000 m³. For other species, the removed volumes and changes were as follows: 49,000 m³ grey alder (3%); 16,500 m³ ash (-14%); and 12,500 m³ oak (-4%).
The volume from intermediate felling in state forests decreased by 6% to 1.1 million m³. The heavy storms bypassed Lithuanian forests and amount of selective sanitary felling decreased by 14%, from 430,000 m³ in 2014 to 368,000 m³ in 2015. Other felling (mainly clear salvage felling in immature stands) decreased from 97,000 m³ to 90,000 m³.
The volume of wood prepared by commercial thinning decreased by 1% until 595,000 m³ and constituted to 16% in the total harvests.
The felling rate in private forests decreased to 2.9 million m³ (expert evaluation). Private forest owners received cutting permits for 2.3 million m³. Half of this (1.1 million m³) was issued to cut in coniferous stands. The allowable cut of pine stands decreases from 706,000 m³ in 2014 to 545,000 m³ in 2015. The allowable cut in spruce stands increased by 20% to 576,000 m³. The amount of possibly felled wood in birch stands increased by 20% and reached 669,000 m³.
State forest enterprises spend more money to pay for services of private logging companies. These companies performed wood harvesting and haulage works which worth was EUR 37.3 million compared with 32.2 million in 2014. Contractors harvested 77% (78% in 2014) of timber produced in State forest enterprises. Twelve state forest enterprises from 42 contracted out 100% of harvesting works. Contractors hauled 58% of the prepared timber (58% in 2014) (see Fig. 5).
Figure 5. Fellings carried out by private contractors in state forests, 1995-2015
The planned felling volume in the next 10 years
According to data from the „Lithuanian Forest Resources in XXI Century“ (Kuliešis A., Petrauskas E., 2000) in 2001-2030 mean gross annual increment in state importance forests rises. In state forest for all three decades is sustained a slightly increasing final and intermediate use, very stable volume of salvage cuttings.
Growing stock use forecast is presented observing mean gross annual increment balance and its regulation principles. Forest growing results may vary depending on forest regeneration method, forest growing, stand formation regime. All this depends on economic conditions, timber industry and forestry development in Lithuania (including timber processing) and on their place in the economy of the country.