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Disputes continue between state forestry body and local residents

Felled trees in Kurgja in Pärnu County.
Felled trees in Kurgja in Pärnu County. Source: ERR

State forestry authority the RMK could involve local populations in its decision making and broaden its concept of sustainable forest management, according to ERR's Marju Himma.

"The RMK manages forest in such a way that it makes its felling decisions based on what is on paper, which of course it then hurts people's feelings and offends their eyes," Himma said, speaking on Sunday's current affairs show "Olukorrast riigis" on Raadio 2.

Himma was talking in the context of an RMK plan to fell 65 hectares in Kurgja, near the Carl Robert Jakobson museum in Pärnu County.

"However, forest can also be managed in a different way - for example, in the forests around Võru, trees are felled one by one and with smaller intervals, making it not such a big change or emotionally difficult for the people around them," she added. 

Himma said she thought that the felling plan at Kurgja, which led to a stand-off with an NGO, MTÜ Eesti Metsa Abiks, was a symptom of a wider problem.

Another difference Himma noted was the centralization of the RMK, with a remote management covering less than 20 forest managers, compared with during the Soviet era, when about ten times that number lived locally to the forest under their remit and so were intimate with the areas.

"[An RMK manager] cannot know all the forests they have in their possession. This is why forests are managed without knowing the local conditions or what kind of reaction forest management can bring for local people," Himma said.

Co-host Andrus Karnau, who is editor-in-chief of local daily Lääne Elu, cited Haapsalu as an example of local people intervening in the RMK's work. There, local authorities imposed restrictions which prevent RMK from cutting too many sections at once, Karnau said.

Karnau added that head of the RMK Aigar Kallas had been mocking in his tone in an interview with agricultural weekly Maaleht on the Kurgja issue (link in Estonian).

"People are very worried, but they don't pay money to laugh at a well-paid position," Karnau said.

Another dispute in Kose

Another dispute concerning forestry has arisen in Kose, in Harju County, according to Sunday night's edition of current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera".

The local community and RMK have not yet been able to find a compromise on how many trees could be felled in forests between the villages of Kose, Ravila and Vardja villages. In this case, the question also concerns the interface between the RMK and high nature value farming areas, as well as local residents' concerns about felling affecting valuable trees.

An impromptu outdoor meeting between representatives of the local communities and the RMK, at the latter's behest, took place Saturday.

The RMK said they wanted to accompany local people in marking the trees for preservation within the forest and to limit the felling, but local residents wanted to make their wishes known, saying they had received 700 signatures opposing the RMK.

"Selective felling is not possible here. Sustainable forestry is not possible here. Today we are talking about limiting logging activities, how to make sure that all values ​​are preserved," explained Andres Sepp, RMK's chief forest officer, to "Aktuaalne kaamera".

Local residents were not impressed, however.

"This is what RMK means when it says that no felling can be done here. [However], we have had forestry experts who have visited the forests to confirm that it is possible to carry out felling," said one, Eleri Lopp-Valdma.

"After selection of trees for felling in mature forests, there needs be a certain number of residual areas. In these forests, we have already reached that number," replied Sepp.

"We do not want RMK to stop cutting nationwide. This is not our goal. At the moment, we are talking about heightened public interest ... and community forests that have completely different values," said another local resident, Virgo Orasi.

"The situation in Estonia is extremely serious," said RMK supervisory board member and EKRE MP Peeter Ernits.

"This Thursday, January 16, the RMK supervisory board is to discuss Audit Committee proposals to reduce … high nature value areas. More than that I cannot say," he added.

Local residents proposed taking the time to develop a new forest management plan involving independent experts. For its part, RMK promised to draw up the plan itself.

In the event, no satisfactory solution to the stand-off was found. Two local people accompanied RMK to mark out the forest, and the RMK promised to draw up a new forest management plan and to introduce it to local people.

The original "Aktuaalne kaamera" report (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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