For years, the Ministry of Agriculture showed no interest in a land swap proposition that would see state-owned forests traded with those owned by the Catholic Church. However, the ministry has now given the green light, paving the way for hundreds to thousands of hectares of forest land to be exchanged. The Catholic Archdiocese of Prague, aiming to consolidate scattered parish forests into larger units, had previously faced opposition from ANO and ČSSD governments.
The dioceses aim to swap more than twelve hundred hectares scattered throughout Bohemia. “We want to consolidate the forests, as the restitutions were sometimes nonsensical. They often didn’t return the road to the forest, or a few meters of growth remained with the Czech forests,” noted Jan Balík, General Vicar of the Prague Archdiocese.
According to the spokesperson for Lesy ČR, Eva Jouklová, the exchange will benefit both parties. “Everything must be in accordance with the statutes of the Forests and only at prices acceptable to the state,” Jouklová told Právo.
The Catholic Church, during church restitutions, received 150,000 hectares of forest, making it the second-largest forest manager. The archdiocese, parishes, and chapters have 26,000 hectares of forest. They are managed by the company AP Lesnická, which was established by the archdiocese.
The reason for transferring forests to the foundation is pragmatic. A publicly beneficial organization does not have to pay income tax. “If we were to do the exchange through some of our company or archdiocese, we would have to hand over half the value in income tax,” noted the vicar. Linda Dolečková, an economist at the archdiocese, estimates that they will save tens of millions of crowns.