Seven reasons to care for private forests

FSC / Jonathan Perugia
Mossy forest at sunset
FSC / Jonathan Perugia
August 21, 2023
Category : Stories

What do forests mean to you? How do you benefit from sustainable forestry? We visited six private forest owners in Lithuania to find answers to these questions. All of them are members of ‘Darnūs Miškai’: the biggest NGO in Lithuania to unite smallholders, and the first large-scale FSC group certification scheme in the country.


We arrive at a forest tucked away behind the remote village of Barsukinė. The neighbourhood is filled with the voice of Antanas Tarvydas, a forest owner and a lifelong forester from the Samogitia region. 

Armoured with forestry boots and a hatchet, he gestures around as we walk:

“My way of life is the forest. I practically live here. I only go home to eat and to sleep.”

To him, it is business as usual: forests have always defined people’s lives in this region. 

We struggle to keep up as he dashes through the thickets and over windflowers. Antanas has worked his entire life in forestry, apart from two days. “In Soviet times, I worked for a couple of days on a collective farm,” says Antanas, recalling the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940–1990. “I couldn’t take it any more and switched to forestry.” 
Back then, forestry helped him and many others to keep their identity: “There was still a Lithuanian spirit there. A different attitude towards people, and a different working relationship,” says Antanas.

Today, forestry moves his life forward. As a member of the group certification scheme, he manages his forests sustainably. To Antanas, it means a combination of creativity, knowledge, and science: “Darnūs Miškai membership inspires me to try harder. I know that someone will advise me, point me in a different direction than I am used to.” 

Antanas in a forest
FSC / Jonathan Perugia


Egidijus Zeleckis, a successful business and forest owner, meets us at a forest logging site close to Rietavas town. With an aura of calm, he suggests we follow him to the site. “Growing up next to a forest automatically makes it part of life,” he says, as we step on a mossy, cloud-like forest floor.

The aroma of sap rushes to our heads. Egidijus points to a lone logging machine buzzing among the trees – its operator has been working with Egidijus’s family for over 15 years. Egidijus and his father are forest contractors and owners of two forestry businesses. It has all developed organically. “My grandparents’ forests were nationalized. When we regained them, my father and his friends managed them so well that others started asking for help.” Now, the two companies employ over 40 people and have the newest technology in the sector. 

The FSC® group certificate allows them to meet clients’ requirements for sustainable sourcing.

"The FSC standard, to this day, is a must.  Without it, forestry activities would most likely be impossible,” says Egidijus.

As a member of Darnūs Miškai, he also benefits from reduced administrative work. It allows him more time to focus on the forests. “Internally, we are constantly audited. That helps us to pay attention to where we are lacking,” Egidijus tells us, indicating the exemplary work needed to keep FSC certification. 

Egidijus in a forest logging site
FSC / Jonathan Perugia


Holding the rain jacket’s hood over her eyes, Lina Čiutaitė meets us at her dream-like forest near Molėtai town. Pines and birch trees look over a lake, gently rippled by rain. As we walk towards it, Lina tells us how sustainable forestry has given her a community: “It is great to be in a like-minded group. I meet nice, knowledgeable people with similar goals to mine,” she says about her membership at Darnūs Miškai. Lina actively works with other members of the organization. “We visit and learn from each other’s forests,” she smiles. “It’s very simple together.” Lina’s face lights up when she tells us about her bond with ‘Aukštaitijos Šilas’, a cooperative of forest owners. “They are my pillar, my counsellor, and my guide in this.”

Sustainable forestry has given Lina a different outlook on society.

“It’s a collective path of awareness, especially when it comes to biodiversity,” she says, gazing at the lake. “There used to be a lot of illegal activities. Now they are disappearing.”

Care for forests reaches beyond the forestry community. Lina mentions a national afforestation event – a yearly public initiative to plant forests nationwide. “It has turned into a very nice public initiative. We are all united by forests,” she smiles. 

Lina in a forest
FSC / Jonathan Perugia

Living Asset

Just outside the town of Biržai, Miglė Lapėnaitė, forest owner and PhD student of anthropology, calmly waits for us as we make our way through the morning dew. Behind her, a wall of birch trees rustles in bright spring green. It starts to rain, so we hurry under the canopy. “I enjoy being in a forest: the fresh air, the sounds,” smiles Miglė. “This relationship between nature and humans is very important.” 

As the rain trickles through the canopy, Miglė shows us around:

“The forest is a living asset. It needs to be maintained. We must log to rejuvenate the forest, replant, and leave it for the future.”

Passionate about sustainable forestry, Miglė often seeks advice from Darnūs Miškai. She has nothing but praise for them: “One of the key benefits of Darnūs Miškai is the feedback I receive from the group leaders. The communication is at such high level.” 

One after another, she names the benefits of being a member: to be involved on the global level and grow together with everyone, to meet sustainability demands, to be part of a value-oriented community, and to be empowered. “We all can contribute. Whether you are a small or large forest owner, everyone’s contribution is important to build a future of sustainable forestry,” says Miglė. 

Migle in a forest
FSC / Jonathan Perugia


A gravel road takes us past old farm homesteads near the city of Panevėžys. We are met by Egidijus Karaveckas, a lifelong forester and forest owner. He points at the road: “It has changed my relationship with the locals.” 

Years ago, Egidijus turned to the neighbouring farmers for help. The road they share needed to be repaired to meet FSC requirements. The whole community pulled together: farmers provided stones, the local Chief Forester brought gravel, and Egidijus hired a truck and helped to lay down the new road. "Afterwards, we became good friends with the whole community,” says Egidijus. “Any time I’m in trouble, I can call them, and they will help.”

Egidijus leads us towards a growth of young birch trees. Not too long ago this was a degraded, abandoned land, now restored by Egidijus and his sons. “Everything is well when everything is in its place.  Animals, humans, and nature are one,” he says, pointing at a couple of trees in an old forest behind us, where his sons had a swing. “That’s what love [of forests] is all about.”

“Forests are good for the soul,” says Egidijus as we circle past the birches: 

“To become a forester, you need love, and you need to study. You must love each tree. When you look at a tree, and all you can see is how to log it and how much you will earn, you can work all your life but never become a forester.” 

Egidijus among birch trees
FSC / Jonathan Perugia


With colourful patterns in her clothes, Lina Oginskienė brings spring to her forest in the Švenčionys region. The sun is setting as she and her husband lead us into the woods. Through the undergrowth, we step into an island of peace. “The forest is a place to admire, inhale the fresh air, and escape the noise. It is meditative. Birds, animals, mushrooms, and berries – benefits only!” smiles Lina. 

Deeper in the forest, our feet sink into a carpet of moss that weaves around old pines. Lina points at a stand of young pines ahead of us: 

“As a forest owner, I am glad  this business is renewable. When you harvest wood, you must reforest and take care of the new trees. You need to think past your economic gains and consider how forests benefit the whole society.”

Lina appreciates her Darnūs Miškai membership: 

“Most of us can log and sell the product. But when it comes to balancing this with the [ecological] values and preservation of all that forests provide, that is where work needs to be done. Darnūs Miškai does an excellent job in delivering all that information.” 

She tells us that Darnūs Miškai brings sustainability and responsibility closer to everyone involved: “This way, our future generations will also enjoy the benefits of forests.”

Lina in a mossy forest
FSC / Jonathan Perugia


“For private forest owners, forests are a way of harmonious living,” says Deivis Pranckūnas, the Director of Darnūs Miškai and our co-traveller for the past four days. We reflect on Darnūs Miškai’s work before we part ways on a sandy forest road. 

Established in 2017, the NGO has surpassed each of its ambitious goals. Driven by Jovita Urbikaitė, the organization’s first director, Darnūs Miškai quickly became the cornerstone of sustainable forestry in Lithuania.  

Today, FSC-certified private forests are managed as well as, or even better than, certified state forests.

“We see positive progress in our internal audits, especially regarding ecological values,” says Deivis.

He and his colleague Gintarė Stankevičienė carry out more than 800 audits annually and are the key contacts for all the NGO members on sustainable forest management.  

“At first,” says Deivis, “forest owners were cautious of our organization. It might have looked like a remnant of the old Soviet-era collective.” In a country recovering from occupation, the idea of cooperation is still met with suspicion. But private forest owners are rediscovering the benefits of working together. Through them, sustainable forestry knits the social fabric itself.

Deivis portrait
FSC / Jonathan Perugia

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