"When companies grow, the forests grow with them!"– an interview with Michał Paca, founder of the "Forest Forever" foundation
Here at 366 Concept, the Earth is always on our minds – hence, for over a year now we have been working together with the “Forest Forever” foundation, planting biodiverse greenwoods in Poland. The foundation aims at returning the earth to nature, assisting it in recovering its natural state by planting greenwoods, which at present are dearly lacking in Poland.
How does the foundation work, how to choose a terrain for reforesting, how to plant a forest, what is the condition of Polish forests and what bills the foundation hopes to introduce in the future – Michał Paca tells us everything. Michał is among the founders of the “Forest Forever” foundation, an admirer of the Earth such as it is who aims to make it more beautiful for the future generations.
Michał, could you explain who you are and what you do?
For most, I am a businessman. My activity revolves around environment protection and waste management. However, I am most engaged in tree planting and educational support activities at the School of Life.
Why take interest in tree planting if your everyday work is in waste management and bio recycling – why is it better than protecting nature by, for instance, cleaning up the Earth?
Cleaning up is a defensive action, and I personally am tired of this type of activity. I clean after people all the time, trying to do something about the tremendous lack of effectiveness of our civilization… As a human being I need another action to balance it out – something creative, something that does not consist of cleaning after, but creating for. An active engagement.
Let us go back to the beginnings of Forest Forever. Whom did you create the foundation with?
I have always been creating forests with anybody who wants to create them! Jokes aside: in the beginning there were three of us. Me, Paweł Krzemiński “Krzemyk”, a director at a media company and the present president of the Foundation, and Karolina Rusinek, who donated a terrain on which we planted the first Forever Forest. We started off as three people with one forest – this year we will plant 30 of them.
You jumped the next question! Does that mean that you will indeed plant 30 forests this year?
Yes, and more! It appears like at the end of this year (2021) we should have 40 new Forever Forests more, planted together with different partners.
30/40 forests are a lot for a person or a group of people, but in a larger picture, isn’t it a drop in the ocean?
One can of course perceive it that way, but I choose to look at it differently. I never look at it from the perspective of the whole country, which can be quite overwhelming. Instead I ask myself if I am doing as much as I can for nature. Let us imagine that in the span of one generation we decide to restore nature on 10% of Polish territory.
If we do the numbers on how many square metres there are per person during the span of their professional activity, we will see that an adult person should be planting 3 sqm of forest a month, 36 sqm a year, to achieve this goal. And it is a goal that is within everybody’s reach!
How can you be sure that your forests will really last forever?
The best guarantee for our forests’ durability is the fact that they belong to the foundation, which has been created to protect them, together with a formal framework – in a nutshell, the foundation cannot cut the trees nor sell the forest. We are also introducing some legal adjustments that make it very difficult to fell such a forest.
Exceptionally, we may decide to plant a Forever Forest on a terrain we do not own – in such cases we design the contract in a way that safeguards the idea of Forest Forever. I consider that the best guarantee for our forests is the fact that they are planted by people – creating a bond between man and nature. I believe it to be the strongest shield, thanks to which it will be unconceivable to cut it down even for our grandchildren.
How do you select the tree species for planting?
Greenforests are our priority, as we lack them in Poland – full of hornbeams, oaks, maples, ashes, elms. The reality is that the deciduous trees are not as industrially attractive as pine, that grows straight and fast. A hornbeam (which used to be the most common tree in Poland) has got its special characteristics – it never grows straight up, which makes it a forester’s nightmare. We, on the other hand, are very fond of hornbeams and give them a lot of space.
One could say then that you are protecting your forever forests from felling by planting hornbeams in them!
I have never thought of that!
How many trees have you planted already?
It is hard to say, as we do not really count them. If we planted trees the same way the National Forestry does, we would be planting one tree per square metre. However, a natural, mature forest works differently – one dominating tree can take as much as 100 sqm. When planting trees we need to have in mind how a real wild forest works. Hence, the type of terrain that we restore to nature is of key importance.
Very well, so how big a surface have you reforested and how big are your forests?
Up to date we have planted trees on around 200 000 square metres, and after the autumn planting, we should be nearing 450 000 sqm. Most of our forests are about a hectare big, but we also create swathes spanning four to six hectares. We dream to restore a natural zone covering around 200-300 hectares – such a surface would allow for big forest predators, creating a full forest ecosystem.
Which means that for now you are planting microforests. Do they have any effect?
They have an impact on the microclimate, which is incredibly important in the context of the weather changes we have been experiencing so intensely lately. Even the smallest forest purifies the air – a hectare of forest catches around 7 tons of CO2 a year. Greenwoods also retain water, better so than pine forests or meadows.
Finally, I will add that even the smallest forest is a haven of biodiversity. This term, so often used and so rarely understood, is key to nature’s durability. To put it simply: the more diverse the plant habitat, the bigger the chance that it will withstand the changes in climate or in water supply.
Poland is viewed as one for the most densely forested countries in the EU – is it not true?
It may appear that Poland has got exceptionally many forests, but it is not true. We are below the EU average for forest cover, and our forests are weak, as we are the leaders in pine monoculture. It is important to differentiate between two types of forests: commercial forests, growing trees for timber, and natural forests. 98-99% of Polish forests are commercial.
And what about saving the forests? Are you planning on buying out forests and saving them from felling?
From nature’s point of view, protecting the existing forests is more important than planting new ones. It is also more expensive – it costs half as much to buy a terrain that has been logged (after a felling) and plant new trees, than to buy a hundred years-old forest. Hence, we rejoice having found our first partner in the Protecting Forest Forever initiative – 366 Concept. Together, we will manage to save 2 ha of Lower Silesia forests this year. A forest that would otherwise get felled.
How can people and companies help your Foundation?
They can plant trees with us, they can become patrons of the Foundation and finance it. We are often moved by the creativity of brands we work with. For instance, IT companies plant several hectares with us to offset their CO2 emissions with forests. Such collaboration creates a strong link between the company and our Foundation. We rejoice in it too – when the companies grow, the forests grow with them!
Besides reforesting Poland, what are your other dreams?
One element, which is less obvious in our day-to-day activity – we wish not only to plant trees, but also to make reclaiming natural terrain easy. We strive to introduce Civic Protected Natural Areas – giving each citizen a right to make their terrain a “private natural reserve”, protected by law.
How advanced are your works on this project?
We put forward a bill – at present we are gathering legislative support, talking to MEPs, political parties, and environmental organizations. Such a law would allow for a civic initiative of sorts – a disseminated national reserve.
What advice could you give to people interested in forests? Is there a message you would like to convey for those who care about forests?
I would advise them to spend as much time as possible in forests. An important part of my life transformation begun in a forest – it helped me slow down.