Ryszard Zaręba was born on 25th May 1924 in Radom. In 1944 he graduated from Highschool with the qualification of a mechanics technician. He then went on to attend another highschool in Radom which he completed in 1945 by taking A-levels. He then began his studies at the Forestry Department of Warsaw University of Life Sciences. In 1949 he completed his studies with a Bachelor's degree in Forestry Engineering and a Master's in Agrotechnical Science. He started working in the field while he was still a student.
As a second year student, he took part in environmental monitoring of Białowieża National Park (under the supervision of professor Niedziałkowski) and in 1952-1953 in the monitoring of Świętokrzyski National Park. In 1947-1954 he was assistant in the Forest Bioecology Department of the Polish Forestry Research Institute. In 1950-1956 he worked as an assistant and later lecturer (assistant professor) at the Department of Forest Botany and Dendrology of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (WULS) headed by professor Roman Kobendza. In 1957 he relocated to the Department of Forest Management where he worked uninterruptedly until the end of his days as lecturer, assistant professor (until 1973) and professor (from 1982). He received three titles at WULS: a Doctor of Philosophy in 1963 (his thesis was entitled „The history of Kozienice Oldgrowth Forest until mid 19th century”); he completed his habilitation in 1971 in the area of forest management (based on his work on „Geobotanical and phytosociological monitoring of forest stands in Kozienice Oldgrowth Forest and Radomsko-Kozienicki District” - published in Zesz. Nauk. SGGW-AR Rozpr. Nauk., 1971 z. 11). In 1982 he became a professor extraordinarius and in 1989 – professor ordinarius.
Professor Zaręba conducted much scientific research, the main area of his interest being botany and phytosociology. He was also interested in questions in forestry, nature conservation, related disciplines and the general socio-economic agenda. He authored and co-authored over 200 publications, including 80 scientific theses, monographs as well as 11 textbooks and lecture scripts. All these included works in phytosociology, forest typology and botany, nature conservation, forest management, environmental science, geography and history of forestry.
Next to his doctoral thesis and habilitation, professor Zaręba's most important and influential publications include: „The phytosociological basis of forest typology” (published in Dział Wyd. SGGW 1972), „Changes in Polish forest cover and forest botanical composition due to economic development” (published in Zesz. Probl. Post. Nauk Rol., 1976, z. 177), „Forest phytosociology and typology” (published in Dział Wyd. SGGW 1980), „Preservation of Polish botanical genetic resources in light of nature reserve and national park management” (published in Acta Univ.Lodz., Folia sozol., 1986, nr 3), „The natural distribution of pedunculate oak Quercus robur L. and sessile oak Quercus sessilis Ehrh. in forest stands and forest habitat types (published in Prace IBL, 1988, nr 684) and „Review of silver fir, Norway spruce, sycamore and European larch in Mazowiecko-Podlaska Region IV (published in Sylwan 1994, nr 3). In his works, professor Zaręba devoted much attention to history of Polish forests, forest management and forest geography. His book on „Oldgrowth forests, coniferous and deciduous forests of Poland” was issued thrice by PWRiL Publishing in 1978, 1981 and 1986 and was highly acclaimed by nature scientists, as well as geographers and linguists. Professor proposed names for all the main forest complexes in Poland which are still widely in use today, they also appear on modern maps. Importantly, professor Zaręba authored about 100 unpublished works – mostly documentation for proposed nature reserves. He pushed for the creation for around 100 forest reserves, mainly in the then Warsaw, Radom, Ciechanów, Płock and Włocławek Counties. He was well known by all botanists as well as more generally nature lovers. He collaborated with many departments of the Warsaw and Poznań Universities of Life Sciences, Cracow University of Agriculture, Forest Research Institute as well as the Institute for Land Reclamation and Grassland Farming.
Professor Zaręba spent over 40 years teaching, lecturing and leading student fieldtrips in forest typology and phytosociology for full-time and part-time students; he also taught nature conservation, environmental science, geography and forest history to postgraduate students at the Departments of Forestry and Gardening of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (WULS). Sixty master's theses were completed under his supervision as well as four doctoral theses including one by an overseas student.
In 1979-1982 professor Zaręba held the office of deputy director in the Institute for the Organisation of Forest Management. In 1985 he became director of the Department of Forest Management and Forest Geodesy, as well as the director of Forest Management Postgraduate Programme. He was a member of the WULS Society of University History, the Board of the „Contribution to WULS Award”, Polish Academy of Sciences Forest Science Committee, Polish National Nature Conservation Council, Polish Forest Society, Polish Soil Science and Botanical Society, the Society of Engineers and Technicians of Forestry and Timber Processing, Scientific Council to the Polish Nature Conservation League, Warsaw Committee for Nature Conservation, Radom County Committee for Nature Conservation, Radom and Włocławek Scientific Society, the Scientific Council to Radom County Museum and finally chairman of the Council to Kozienice Landscape Park. From 1985 he served as president of Polish Forest Society „court” for settling disputes.
Professor Zaręba received numerous awards, distinctions and decorations. Among them were a medal of the Commission of National Education, the Golden Cross of Merit, the Knight's as well as the Officer's Orders of Polonia Restituta, the Golden Honorary Award for Contribution to WULS, the Golden Award of the Polish Forest Society and Polish Nature Conservation League, as well as the Award for Contribution to Forestry and Timber Industry. In 1970 he received an award of the 1st order from the Minister of Public and Higher Education for his academic work and in 1994 an individual award of the 1st order from the Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Forestry for his lifetime achievement for nature conservation and academia.
Professor Zaręba was a kind, knowledgeable and humourous man. Numerous professionals, including practicing foresters, valued his advice. He died in Warsaw following a serious illness on 18th June 1994. He was buried at Powązki former military cemetery. He had been married to Wanda, née Czerniecka with whom he had had two daughters: Anna (born 1949) and Maria (born 1953) and a son Zygmunt (born 1952).