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    The capital of oaks is getting rich in cloned trees

    Jolanta TAMAŠAUSKIENĖ
    ‘‘Business and Politics“ Number 1, January 2012

    The director of Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise Juozas GIRINAS was the first in Lithuania to start cloning ancient oaks, and not only them. His concern is to preserve the gene pool of trees for future generations: “If we do not graft or clone trees, the trees are gone in non-existence and eternity instead of leaving valuable offspring with strong genes”. The basic forest seed material collected by the director of KėdainiaiForest Enterprise Juozas Girinas stands out for its uniqueness beyond the borders of Lithuania. His interest in tree grafting, like a camera in natural landscape, has accompanied the forest steward for his entire life.
    Juozas Girinas is a member of the Panel of the Directorate General of State Forests of Lithuania at the Ministry of Environment; he is a member of the Board of the Forest Stewardship Council, the Coordination Council for the Issues of Forest Sanitary Protection; he actively participates in the activities of the Expert Commission for Lithuanian Forest Genetic Resources, Seed Farming and Tree Breeding.

    Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise is the capital of oaks; it is the forest enterprise in Lithuania richest in oak forests. Is the number of oaks planted each year also the highest in Lithuania?
    Some 100 ha of oak saplings are planted in the forest enterprise every year: the number is indeed very high at the level of Lithuania. Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise has over 11 percent of oak forests – it is the highest percentage in the context of state forests in our country.
    Approximately 80 percent of the lands in Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise are made up of the soil good for oaks. Apparently, the number of oaks planted will not reduce in the future. After all, some 200 ha of mature or over-mature stands are cut down in the forest enterprise every year, hence, we have a sufficient number of areas suitable for oaks.
    The total forest area of Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise amounts to 21.7 thousand ha – exceeding the district of Kėdainiai and extending to Raseiniai, Jonava, Kaunas districts. The forests of the forest enterprise are dominated by birch forests.

    How have the “Unseen Lithuania” Millennium Oak Forest been expanding in Pašiliai?
    It was founded in 2009, the Year of the Millennium of Lithuania’s Name, at the initiative of the photography artist Marius Jovaiša. Some 5–7 thousand oaks are planted per year; today their estimated number is nearly 20,000; the oak forest is expected to cover the total area of some 40 ha. Each buyer of the photo album “Unseen Lithuania” by Marius Jovaiša acquires the right to plant an oak in that oak forest, thus immortalising his name. Oaks are quite actively planted by individual people, families, institutions, organizations, pupils from various locations in Lithuania, etc.

    What is exceptional about an oak tree for you?
    An oak was considered a holy tree in ancient times. It is the strongest, firmest and one of the most long-lived trees in Lithuania. In short, it is the tree of the trees.

    The demand for cloned oaks in the nursery garden of the forest enterprise is on the increase; some buyers give them on the occasion of various anniversaries or other occasions. The idea to clone the ancient oaks is unique across the Baltic countries. How did it come to life?
    To me, the first stimulus was the oak of Šaravai, unique for its history – it is related with the 1863 Rebellion (the oak is a witness of the massacre of rebels and priests). In 1998, the forest enterprise revived the tradition to celebrate the Holy Mass near the oak in the beginning of September every year. Unfortunately, the oak, two meters in diameter and some 500 years old, dried off in 2010. I grafted in the branches of the oak of Šaravai as far back as 2005. It was said in Lithuania that the grafts of ancient oaks do not take, so I decided to check this belief by myself. When the clones of the oak of Šaravai did take, I started collecting the branches of other Lithuanian ancient oaks and grafting them.
    My idea is to collect the gene pool of the ancient oaks to a single place: the genes of longevity and resistance do remain in the grafted oaks. Clones have already been collected from over fifty ancient oaks in the country. Their average age is 400–500 years; trunk diameter amounts to 2 and more meters.

    Is a plantation of the cloned ancient oaks already growing?
    We started planting such a cloned oak forest named after the Lithuanian-descent world-renowned scientist Marija Galdikas last year in the Botanical Garden of Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University. 50 cloned trees have already established their roots there; we are planning to plant 50 more this year.
    We are going to create an identical forest in the areas of Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise; for now, the forest enterprise offers to acquire individual cloned oak trees, which people tend to buy on various occasions; a number of people celebrating their anniversaries have already received such a gift. We are going to plant another seed plantation at the forest enterprise – for instance, a plantation of 25 largest cloned ancient oaks and 25 selected oaks which are most valuable in forestry terms.

    Is the seed oak plantation established in Lančiūnava Forest District going to “feed” the entire Lithuania with its seedlings?
    The forest seed plantation of selected oaks showing the best qualities in forestry terms is already growing in Lančiūnava Forest District. 183 clones of the best Lithuanian oaks were planted in a 21 ha area. The majority of grafts were taken from Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise, as well as other 10 forest enterprises. We are hoping that this seed plantation will ensure the supply of the best oak seedlings to the entire Lithuania in the future.
    We are going to use a part of local selected oak clones for the renewal of the genetic reserves and seed stands of Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise.

    What inspired you to accumulate a collection of the sycamore maple clones which is unique across the Baltic region?
    I accumulated the collection of the sycamore maple clones from a vast region – I drove across the territory from Lvov in Ukraine to Helsinki in Finland, and from Utena in Lithuania to Villandry Castle in France. It is not a local plant but its natural habitat is right in the vicinity, the Kaliningrad Region. The maples grown from the seeds of this clone collection will be the material for subsequent selection. The clone collection comprises of the offspring of 122 grafted trees growing in the area of 1.8 ha.
    Today, the fast-growing timber of sycamore maple is among the most expensive in Europe. It is far more expensive than our oak timber.

    You have even collected the clones of common walnut?
    I have collected the clones of the most valuable common walnut known to me, which are growing in Lithuania, for amateur purposes. I will have to carry out the selection of the trees grown from the seeds extracted from 25 clones and to breed the best ones in the future. By the way, you can also find the clones of the oldest Lithuanian apple-tree, pear-tree and other trees in the nursery garden of the forest enterprise.

    What is the purpose of the “in vitro” hybrid aspens?
    Once I brought the hybrid “in vitro” aspens – small sprouts grown by in-vitro method – from the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology of the Institute of Forestry at the Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry, I wanted to make sure whether they are very particular about growing conditions. In the beginning, I kept the aspens in one of the rooms of the forest enterprise and looked after them. Now they successfully grow in the 8 ha area of trial stands in the forest districts of Dotnuva, Lančiūnava and Kėdainiai.
    The hybrid aspen is fast-growing, and its annual volume increment is four times higher than the increment of the local aspen stands.
    However, “in vitro” plants are expensive; therefore, we are looking for simpler ways. One of them is cloning by means of root cuttings (in collaboration with the Institute of Forestry). Yet another method is the breeding of particularly valuable trees by grafting. We use willows – the trees of the same family but a different genus – as a stock. The first results achieved in our nursery garden are positive and makes us continue the tests on a broader scale.

    Can you actually graft trees in a modern greenhouse of the nursery garden in the midst of winter frost?
    The creation of the basic seed material is the top priority of the forest enterprise. We have accumulated the seed material of oak, black alder, sycamore maple, hybrid aspen created from the best genetic resources known at this time and appropriate under the conditions of the forest enterprise. The nursery-garden technological plant breeding complex with a modern greenhouse with regulated temperature, humidity, lighting serve this purpose, hence, grafting is also possible under winter conditions. Last year, the nursery garden was equipped with a grafting machine, which you most probably cannot yet find in other forest enterprises in Lithuania.

    Is a part of technology at the forest enterprise created with regard to your proposals?
    Some ten apparatuses and machines were developed with regard to our proposals – for instance, the seeding-machines of acorns or birch seeds. The tendency to develop the technology has accompanied me since my graduation theses at the Academy of Agriculture – back then, me and my scientific supervisor Assoc. Prof. Jonas Repšys received the rationalizer diplomas from Moscow – for a modernized device to measure the density of a tree crown.
    The forest enterprise is equipped with the machinery unique at the level of Lithuanian forest enterprises – for instance, when we purchased an Austrian tractor for nursery-garden maintenance, it was the sole tractor of such type in Eastern Europe.

    This year is going to be the thirteenth anniversary since you came to the office of the director of KėdainiaiForest Enterprise where you have been employed since 1992. How did forests change throughout the decades?
    Forests have been severely devastated in the decades I spent on Kėdainiai land. Several severe storms devastated the forests, in particular fir forests, one after another. In 1994 fir trees were struck by a mass sap-rot attack; though the pest that destroyed them gradually appeared, we still lost a number of fir trees. It was followed by a mass desiccation of ash trees; today, there are virtually no ash trees with healthy roots. Forests were impoverished by disastrous droughts for two years, which also weakened our oaks – they were additionally attacked by tortrix moth and started drying off…

    What principle do you follow in restoring the forests?
    Our stands are complex – they are partially planted and partially formed from plants from natural regeneration. Foresters do not only follow the principle of replanting the clear-cut areas but of planting even more. For instance, we replace one cut-down oak by 60 young oaks.

    Which season of forestry works do you prefer?
    It is spring when nature awakes, even though it is the most intensive period in terms of work, whereas summer is the time for collecting valuable tree clones and grafting.

    In what places are you accompanied by your camera? What is most interesting for you to shoot?
    I always try to have my camera with me when going to the forest. I try to take it even when I go mushrooming. It is most interesting to photograph wild animals, birds, in particular – insects. I sometimes take my video camera to the forest.

    What recreational spots Kėdainiai Forestry Enterprise can boast of?
    There are three strictly defined recreational areas – Skinderiškis Dendrological Park, Babėnai Forest Park, the previously-mentioned “Unseen Lithuania” Millennium Oak Forest, Oak of Šaravai. The forest enterprise prepared a project for the renovation of sight-seeing places of Skinderiškis Dendrological Park and was allocated the funding from the EU Structural Funds (it is projected to built paths, observation decks and other places important to visitors). On the occasion of the Millennium of Lithuania’s Name, a thousand of magnolias were planted in Skinderiškis Park at the initiative of the founder and caretaker of the park Kęstutis Kaltenis.
    Camping sites were already installed in Babėnai pine forest situated in the vicinity of Kėdainiai; works will be continued in the future.
    Since we are not allowed to cut down the dried-off oak of Šaravai and we wanted to make a chapel out of it, we are still planning to build in next to the oak.

    The forester’s profession is not as popular in Lithuania as it is in Germany where you did your traineeship. How does a German and Lithuanian approach towards the forest differ?
    In Germany, each child is taught to get to know the nature – irrespective of the profession he is willing to choose. For that reason, training centres are established under the auspices of forest enterprises which are visited by the pupils of each grade once a week who are taught to get to know the nature in different forms. I still remember an eloquent title of a composition written by one child – “An ant is a policeman of the forest”. Germans realise that the approach towards the forest developed in childhood lays the foundations for the entire lifetime.
    Unfortunately, the Lithuanian society is more driven by consumer interests. Many see a forest as some borderline behind which all rubbish can be thrown away. In reality, the situation is quite the contrary – the forest does not accept anything unnatural, no pollutants, chemicals. In terms of biodiversity, the field cultivated by farmers is a death zone, whereas a forest, by contrast, does not tolerate anything artificial.

    What are your future plans at the level of the forest enterprise?
    We will definitely plant a lot of forests in the future but we will combine them with fast-growing or very valuable types of trees – for instance, hybrid aspens, to be able to cut them several times while oaks will be aging. The building of new forest roads is among our long-term plans. We will solve the problem of the so called little drainage – we will try to recreate the little hand-made drains, which ran along the forests of Kėdainiai Forest Enterprise in prewar and post-war times.
    The issues of cultivation of bio-fuel and its supply to consumers also mark the new guidelines for future plans. It is necessary to supply ourselves with the planting stock required for the increase of productivity of stands right now, at the earliest possible opportunity, and to seek for cost-efficient and forest-friendly mechanisms to take the waste wood from cut-areas without causing damage to the forest, i.e. the branches of cut trees, undergrowth trees and bushes; to collect them and to carry away from the forest.
    After all, the supply with energy resources in the world struck by the economic crisis is as strategically important to Lithuania as it has never been before.

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