Currently, the State Forest Management Center (RMK) is responsible for the decisions of which forests are under protection, but these decisions might be transferred to local government in the future. A draft law in processing states that the RMK should have to ask the local government for a felling permit going forward.
The state forest management center has had to take the local population into account when planning loggin projects for some time. The institution discusses felling with the locals to reach an agreement on how the forests should be managed. There are more than 130 such areas in Estonia.
Ministry of the Environment deputy secretary general Marku Lamp said current legislation leaves many ends open. "There have been complaints about how the areas important to the locals are chosen, how the involvement process is handled and who gets the final say," Lamp said.
A draft law sent for coordination last week would provide a framework for state forest management and local communication. "The best representative body for the local residents is the local municipality government. They have the right or obligation to assign these state forest areas through general planning," Lamp said.
The RMK should get approval from the local government to manage the local state forests. This would give the local government an opportunity to assign the state forest designation to all of the forests in the municipality. It would also provide an option of suspending all forest management plans where logging is mentioned.
"I would like to hope that this option would not be abused, but would still remain linked to the surroundings of the residents' homes or to other areas important to them," the education ministry official said.
RMK director Aigar Kallas is also glad to see the draft law being processed. He said the current procedure caused a lot of confusion because there is an obligation to communicate with the locals, but there was no legal framework for it. What is even more important is that the RMK now gets a concrete partner.
"What has happened is that we have received the interests and attention of some people and have been able to negotiate with them, but then it becomes clear that there are other people who would like to negotiate, as well. We just have not noticed them," Kallas said.
He noted that there might be more disagreements initially, now that the local government gets the final say instead of the RMK. At the same time, he believes the draft law would clear up a lot of issues.
"Most people are pragmatic and understand. And even if they do not right away and we are forced to do something silly in terms of forest management, this silliness will become clear rather quickly. And I think that if people see that something has gone wrong, they are capable of learning," the RMK director said.
Mati Sepp, a member of the Eesti Metsa Abiks civic association, said he is skeptical of the draft law. He noted that many forest plans have been recently established and it is unlikely they will be opened again.
Sepp also does not believe local governments are as motivated to negotiate state forests as locals are. "The RMK loses the direct need of having heated debates with local residents about felling. I think the public will have less options," the activist said.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste