Minister of the Environment Madis Kallas (SDE) has submitted for a round of approvals Estonia's new forestry development plan through 2030 (MAK2030), which places greater emphasis on climate goals and biodiversity conservation and recognizes that felling volumes must therefore decrease.
"The new version of the forestry development plan (MAK) provides that forest felling volumes must decrease, or we won't be able to meet our criteria of placing a much greater emphasis on biodiversity and the forest ecosystem," Kallas told ERR on Wednesday.
According to Kallas, one significant change will be the MAK highlighting that forestry must ensure forest ecosystem and climate goals and take biodiversity into account as well.
"Previously it was that it must take forest ecosystems and other factors into account, but that was too general for me; I wanted [it to say that] it must ensure," he said about the change in emphasis.
"The work found that, taking the carbon balance, timber supply of the forestry industry and changes to forest stock and age distribution into account, average annual felling volumes should total 10-12 million cubic meters," stated an annex to the development plan citing a 2021 study by the Environment Agency and the Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMÜ) analyzing the binding capacity of the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector through 2050.
Current annual felling volumes in Estonia are in the range of 10-12 million cubic meters.
"In the scenarios considered, it was found that the volume of regeneration felling in a rotation should be an average of 8-9 million cubic meters a year," the annex read. "At such annual average felling volumes, forest stocks should either remain stable or increase, depending on the forest growth scenario. And thus carbon sequestration will take place in the forest year after year. Considering that approximately 47 percent of managed forests are mature or maturing, however, it was found that care must be taken at the aforementioned felling volumes to ensure that regeneration felling targets forest that has reached or exceeded felling age, and that, when felling, the optimal ratio of felling species and species being felled is observed."
At the same time, it says that it can be concluded, based on the data and analyses available to the forestry development plan governing body and considering various forest management scenarios and their long-term impacts, that Estonia should move toward the most uniform forest management possible, taking all aspects into account. This would balance the needs of society with the wishes and expectations of interest groups, the ministry noted.
"Not one felling area or volume determined at the development plan level will guarantee that set objectives will automatically be fulfilled," it was nonetheless stressed. "Thus it is crucial to continuously monitor forest use and make adjustments to forecasts and limits if necessary in order to meet the objectives set by the development plan."
The latest version of the MAK2030 has been expanded in the biodiversity and nature conservation fields. For example, the development plan now includes a recommendation for legislative amendments. The first recommendation would extend the current reforestation time, which would help prevent the concentration of large open spaces; another recommendation would reduce the maximum felling area from the current 7 hectares to 5 hectares, the Ministry of the Environment said in a press release.
Kallas described the development plan he submitted as a proposal to the Riigikogu for compromise.
"I hope that the Riigikogu will accept the development plan for [legislative] proceedings, involve all parties again if necessary and we can finally reach a societal decision regarding how we will protect and manage Estonia's forests going forward," he said.
The ministry hopes the development plan will reach the Riigikogu at the beginning of next year.
Impact assessment goes beyond environmental
The minister of the environment also signed off on the assessment of the development plan's environmental and other significant impacts.
This marks the first time that the development plan includes such a broad range of assessed impacts — not only on the natural environment, but also on the social and cultural spheres. Assessment works were coordinated by OÜ Maves.
The impact assessment did not identify any direct conflict with the objectives or metrics of any other strategic planning documents.
Furthermore, no reason was determined based on an expert assessment and checklist to reformulate any objectives or measures included in the forestry development plan.
The impact assessment report does, however, include a series of proposals which must be taken into account in the implementation of the development plan. The authors of the report likewise stress that emerging environmental impacts must be consistently monitored as the development plan is implemented, and that mitigation measures must be introduced where necessary.
Editor: Aili Vahtla