Poles told to gather firewood amid soaring energy prices

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By Euronews  with AP
A view of a car parked between birch trees in a forest near Lipsk, Poland, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.
A view of a car parked between birch trees in a forest near Lipsk, Poland, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.   -  Copyright  Matthias Schrader/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Authorities in Poland reminded citizens on Friday they can forage firewood from forests to keep warm amid soaring energy costs in the country. 

The government said it was taking steps to make it easier for people to collect firewood in an effort to ease the pressure created by sky-rocketing energy bills and shortages of coal.

“It is always possible, with the consent of foresters, to collect branches for fuel,” said deputy climate and energy minister Edward Siarka.

Opponents of the ruling 'Law and Justice party' said the comments showed it had not got a grip on the wider economy. Inflation in Poland has climbed to 14 per cent in recent weeks, with fuel prices hitting 8 zlotys ($1.87) per litre. The average monthly wage in Poland is around 7110 zlotys ($1800).

Speaking to the Polish TV channel Polsat, State Forests spokesman Michał Gzowski reminded those wishing to gather wood they must first obtain permission from the local forestry unit. 

"Even a phone call is enough,” he said. But he added that people can only take firewood already lying on the ground, and cannot cut down trees.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's government is blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine for driving up costs, calling it “Putinflacja” — or “Putinflation.”

Critics, however, say the war is only partially to blame. They argue that costs have risen for seven years under Law and Justice's social spending policies, which include cash handouts to families with children and the elderly. 

"We will all be collecting brushwood,” said Donald Tusk, leader of the opposition Civic Platform on Friday. “Because this seems to be the latest idea to prevent Polish poverty that Law and Justice has prepared for all of us.”

Firewood, as a byproduct of logging in state-owned forests, has long been sold to businesses, institutions and individuals. However, under the new rules, individuals will be given a priority. The Polish forestry agency has also increased the amount of wood available.  

Wood imports from Russia and Belarus stopped completely at the outbreak of the Ukraine war and those from Ukraine fell around 75 per cent, reported Poland's Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

The Law and Justice party has said it is seeking ways to alleviate the energy crisis, stating that eight ships carrying more than 700,000 tonnes of coal are on their way to Poland.