Minister: I was in favor of reducing timber felling in Estonia all along
A recent call for a reduction in timber felling in Estonia is not a new phenomenon, Environment Minister Madis Kallas (SDE) says, adding that he had always favored that policy and had only stated that felling volumes should remain constant while he sounded out all political parties, other concerned parties and got to grips with important state procurements.
The felling question only relates to state-managed (RMK) forests, which make up around half the total of Estonia's forests, and not private concerns – Estonia in turn is around 50 percent forest.
Speaking to Vikerraadio news show "Uudis+" Thurday, Kallas said: "At the beginning of September, I noted that [the felling volume] might remain as is, since at that meetings were still ongoing, for example with the district heating association," referring to a lobby group for companies providing central heating, via piped-in hot water, to many apartment blocks and who were looking at ways of mitigating soaring prices for the commonest fuel source they use, ie. natural gas.
"We did not know how and how the state's various procurements were going, for example in relation to gas reserves," Kallas told Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" program.
"Now, more than a month later, I have met with all the parties again, and I have received additional inputs from experts. These are the reasons why I now consider the time is ripe to be able to say that at least the present Minister of the Environment will bring a draft to the government, where this [reducing the area of renewal felling of state forests] is planned for," he went on.
"In fact I have already said this in July, August and September: That my long-term perspective, long-term desire is definitely to reduce the volume of felling. This should not come as a surprise to anyone," the minister went on, adding that there was no need to rush the process or make decisions prematurely.
The Reform/SDE/Isamaa coalition had agreed on entering office in July that logging volumes would be reviewed, in the direction of a reduction, noting that his party's stance had always been that felling should be reduced, with concessions made, given that in the party's view forests in Estonia are managed too intensively.
Nonetheless, he has not received cross-party support within the coalition for his proposal yet, Kallas added.
However, Kallas admitted that he has not yet received the support of his coalition partners for his proposal. "But it is important that these discussions take place and that people understand in which direction today's environment minister wants to take it," he said.
Felling volumes and employment are not directly correlated, he added; jobs are influenced by other factors too he said, and noted that despite the highest rates of felling volumes in recent years, jobs are still disappearing, while the current energy crisis, inflation etc. were major factors for employers too
The loss of jobs in rural areas has broader regional political factors related to it also, the minister said, pointing out that prior to being appointed minister, he had been mayor of one such rural area, namely Saaremaa.
Earlier this week Kallas said he would be proposing a reduction in logging areas in state (RMK) forests, from the current 10,400 ha, to 9,200 had.
This would fall most heavily on pine tree felling, given the drop in demand from one of that sector's main customers, construction, while a rise in demand for firewood including at commercial level means that now is not the time to reduce volumes in that aategory, while biodiversity, which a recent University of Tarty study found has been taking a hit in RMK-managed forest, needs to remain a key goal also, he said.
"This is a complex issue and I am glad that this debate has been going on for a year and a half," he said.
Kallas added that he hopes to submit his proposal to the government for approval in the coming weeks.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte