Environment agency: Forest growth outstrips felling in 2019

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Forest in eastern Estonia. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Managed forest grew in 2019 as felling was outstripped by growth, the Environment Agency stated in its recently published Forest Statistical Inventory (SMI).

In recent years, the most deforestation has taken place in the years 2017-2020, the least between 2006 and 2009, the agency says.

Some tree species reach felling maturity at about an age equivalent to the very uppermost limit of a human life-span (not that humans get felled; see quick facts below).

While around half of Estonia's total land is forested, both state owned and privately owned, the island of Hiiumaa and the easternmost county, Ida-Viru, half above-average forest cover at 61 percent.

Tartu County had a higher-than-average proportion of arable land.

Forest reserves in Estonia totaled 16.1 million cubic meters in 2021, with 75 percent of this consisting of pine, birch and spruce.

The share of protected forests has risen to 25.6 percent, while the share of the most strictly protected forest comes to 14.2 percent, a figure which was below 10 percent until a decade ago.

Just over half the forested land is owned by the state, the bulk of which is managed by the state forestry commission (RMK) and about a third of which sees felling activity.

The rest is privately owned, with nearly 28 percent of the total forest land owned by individuals, and close to 21 percent by companies.

Commercial forest grew in volume by 12 million cubic meters to 2021, a figure which outstrips the volume felled, environmental agency (Keskonnaamet) chief Taivo Denks says.

He said: "Forest reserves have stabilized over the past five years and have remained at 470-480 million cubic meters," Denks said.

Estonia has twice as much land designated as forest as it does arable land, close to half of which is actually forested at present, while around 4.5 percent has no forest cover.

Coniferous forests make up 39 percent of the total Estonian forest; hardwood forests 42 percent. Taivo Denks said this makeup has been largely unchanged in recent years, though the share made up of pine has fallen slightly, with birch trees, it has risen.

Denks said: "The explanation for this may lie in part in the fact that, while coniferous trees have been increasingly used in private reforestation in recent years, many forest owners still prefer to leave the stock to natural regeneration, which already gives the advantage to the faster-growing deciduous trees."

Estonia's forests as of 2019 SMI, quick facts:

  • 11.25 million cubic meters of forest felled, of which 8.3 million or three quarters consisted of clear-cutting.
  • Forests make up 51.3 percent of land area (2.33 million ha).
  • Felling volumes decreased slightly in 2019, and according to forecasts, the downward trend continued last year as well (10.6 million cubic meters (est.)).
  • 87.9 thousand had of forest felled, 29.6 ha was clear-cutting (one third),with part-cutting covering 19.5 thousand ha, maintenance felling covering 11 thousand ha and sanitary felling 3.9 thousand ha.
  • 39 percent of trees are over 60 years old – the age at which trees on average reach felling maturity (which naturally varies depending on species; with pine trees the age is 90-100 years of age, compared with 60-80 years for spruce trees).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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