Felling volume to fall below 10 million cubic meters during next decade

Timber industry.
Timber industry. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

Sources have told ERR that the leading committee behind the next forestry development plan has established the yearly felling volume at 9-11 million cubic meters, which will likely have to be lowered to meet European Union climate goals.

Last year, Estonia's felling volume finished at 10.6 million cubic meters, down 0.6 million from the year prior. The leading committee behind the new forestry development plan has agreed that felling volumes should be between 9-11 million cubic meters.

The specific yearly felling volume will depend on multiple factors, such as colder winters and the price of wood on world markets so there will be no specific felling volumes established.

The committee has not published the felling volumes and has emphasized that it is not the most important indicator in the plan. Experts say that setting specific felling volumes means future discussions will only focus on how much forest is felled, but felling is only one component in the debate on the future of forestry.

The committee wants to avoid specific volumes and numbers, instead opting for wider volume ranges, which allows maneuverability to meet the demands of environment activists and the forestry industry. But since the final decisions will be made by the Riigikogu, these numbers will eventually be made public and heated debate will rage on. MPs have an important role here, as they can change the maximum felling volume in the Riigikogu.

Although the initially agreed felling volume is up to 11 million cubic meters a year, it will also depend on discussions with the European Commission, which Estonia hopes to initiate next year. The debate is over the "Fit for 55" carbon border adjustment mechanism with Estonia being one of the few European countries to receive a goal too great, which cannot be met with current measures.

Estonia should increase its rate of CO2 capture four-fold while countries such as Finland can even relax their regulations. An expert told ERR that this would mean the "immediate suspension of the entire peat production and only about two-thirds of the forestry sector remaining". Agriculture would also suffer and part of the harvestable land should have to be afforested.

Estonian officials have tried to discuss the CO2 capture obligation, but political negotiations are set to kick off next year. The European Commission might not even want to initiate any negotiations as the goal of the negotiations is to offer the obligation to another member state, which is why the outlook for the negotiations is weak.

If negotiations are not initiated and Estonia still has to meet the European climate goals, felling volumes are set to drop far below 10 million cubic meters yearly.

Many experts have told ERR that the main issue for Estonian forests is the carbon sequestration capacity. To increase the capacity, forests need to be regenerated and aging wood must be removed more rapidly from existing forests. This would require a significant felling volume increase to begin with, because a lot of rotting wood will keep emitting carbon.

While the State Forest Management Center (RMK) replaces felled trees with new trees, private forest owners often leave freshly cut forests to tend for themselves, which takes a lot of time to regenerate. Therefore, one of the key components of the forestry development plan is more efficient work from private owners in making their forests regenerate faster.

Some experts believe that CO2 capture capacities can be improved by restricting felling volumes, their proposed total yearly volumes are between 7.3-8 million cubic meters.

As one of his last moves as environment minister, Tõnis Mölder decided to cut RMK felling volumes by 20 percent, making up 0.5 million cubic meters. This reduction angered those involved in forestry, but if felling volumes would be reduced to 8 million cubic meters a year, the cut would be 10 times the amount.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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