Clearcutting and peat cutting volumes in state forests need to be sorted post haste and the contribution of state forests manager RMK employees in charge of shared values, visitation organization and natural wealth appreciated, Indrek Tammekänd writes.
The new CEO of Estonia's State Forest Management Center (RMK) Mikk Marran is set to take office in November. Until now, the incoming director has taken plenty of flak for having no forestry sector experience and looking at a monthly salary of €11,500 a month.
But lack of experience could also mean that the incoming director has no links to timber sector oligarchs, whereas €11,500 a month is not a lot for safeguarding our greatest common asset, especially considering the challenges the new head will inherit from RMK's outgoing extremely pro-logging brass.
I was expecting a broad-based social debate on the management of state forests to follow, as new challenges and management board give plenty of reason for it. After all, we are talking about a quarter of Estonia that belongs to everyone and affects us all. Instead, we have mostly been treated to criticism of the incoming director in place of weighing his predecessors' actions and looking for ways to learn from their myriad mistakes.
RMK's outgoing CEO Aigar Kallas has said that he turned the organization into a money-making machine, with some politicians referring to RMK as a cash cow. Indeed: it seems that the cash how has been taken to the butcher for the benefit of a select few industrialists.
RMK has been turned into an organization that sports Estonia's biggest negative environmental impact, with only the oil shale industry in the same ballpark. But while oil shale has been the source of our electricity, what excuse can we make for the devastation in managing our state forests?
RMK must return to serving communal interests and morph from a wasteful intensive manager into the guardian of our state forests post haste. Long-term contracts with major industries must no longer be favored, timber from state forests must be aimed at domestic consumption, with contracts offered only to companies that manufacture durable products.
Continued enrichment of Estonia's wealthiest people at the expense of our recreational forests, natural values, environment, climate and timber resources is unacceptable.
RMK must not serve the interests of industrialists who, through unmitigated trading of timber resources, have obtained wealth and power that is beginning to jeopardize Estonian democracy. The illogic of flooding the market with timber, which has benefited resource-intensive and low value added industry and held back innovation in the sector, must end.
Completely abandoning the clearcutting-based economic model in state forests is unavoidable as it coincides with the expectations of society, as well as the obligation to primarily maintain and safeguard environmental, social and cultural values in state forests.
Scientists have concluded that in order to save the planet from crises of diversity and climate, efforts at maintaining life need to be ramped up considerably. For us, most of it is found in forest communities. Scientist find that at least half the planet needs to be placed under conservation if we are to retain our recent living environment.
EU Member States and most of the rest of the developed world has made it a goal to protect at least a third of land and sea over the next eight years.
Estonia needs to make efforts here, and in order to reach that goal, we need to place almost all state land managed by RMK under conservation. I doubt we want to place a considerable part of private land under protection in a situation where we have enough state land for the purpose that usually sports a higher conservational value. Bur protecting forests means ending clear- and peat cutting that is destroying natural and recreational values.
We must also end senseless roadbuilding in state forests and redigging of drainage ditches under the aegis of reconstruction and maintenance that is reminiscent of Soviet planned economy. In a situation where some village roads are in such a poor state as to be difficult to traverse and farm equipment needs to make its way to fields down muddy tracks, thousands of kilometers of forest "highways" able to support the heaviest machinery are built in state woods, including in protected areas where the need to pick up a load of timber is created no more than once every few years.
A considerable part of material required for this ostentatious roadbuilding comes from quarries that are on former RMK lands given to businesses. The cost-effectiveness studies of drainage efforts are from the 1960s, which is not stopping RMK from redigging hundreds or even thousands of kilometers of ditches every year and paying tens of millions for it.
It hardly bears repeating that in addition to being a colossal waste of money, these efforts are utterly anti-climate and environment. Drainage causes carbon trapped in the soil to be emitted as CO2, destroys wetlands wildlife, harms bodies of water by adding sediment and nutrients and deepens drought stress that comes with climate change and hampers tree growth.
The recent management's brainwashing of the population using PR lies and conflict with those looking to defend forests close to home also needs to be revised. Efforts to plant 2,300,000 trees in state forests this year is a colossal tragedy and not something that can offset excessive logging. To provide light for the new saplings, many times the number of young trees have and will be felled in the coming years.
Trees that naturally grow in areas destroyed by clearcutting and the preservation of which would yield much healthier and diverse future forest communities. Instead, we continue to plant spruce in state forests, knowing that climate warming will likely cause most of them to die even before they reach the small log age. The RMK leadership's appetite for clearcutting followed by planting has been so intemperate that it has been done in places where planting requires a helicopter.
On the other hand, the contribution of RMK employees in charge of shared values, visitation organization and natural wealth needs to be valued more. It makes no sense that the people in charge of recreation possibilities in state forests and cleaning up after us are worked hardest and paid lowest.
The first step on the road to recovery needs to be fixing clearcutting and peat cutting volumes in state forests. Forests to be cut must not include areas that cannot and must not be clearcut – so-called KAH areas, or recreational berry and mushroom woods near where people live, as well as all forests and bog forests under nature conservation.
Rectifying past mistakes requires altogether new management as the efforts of those responsible for said mistakes tend to concentrate on denial and justification rather than correction. Keeping proponents of extreme logging on the board clashes with the expectation of the Estonian people and would result in a continued war to protect home forests that is sure to deepen feelings of disappointment in the state and dismantle social cohesion.
A precise and independent audit of the recent actions of RMK leaders to create premise for straightening out slanting processes is required to restore trust in society. There is a world of effort that needs to be made to make the world a better place here. I wish the incoming RMK head strength in this and would like to see a show of hands from those who think that achieving the goal is not worth a bigger salary.
Editor: Marcus Turovski