Estonia's new forestry development plan is to the liking of neither conservationists nor the timber industry. The Ministry of the Environment nevertheless hopes to secure the parliament's approval before elections in spring.
Work on the forestry development plan to lay down the principles of forest management for the next decade started already in Jüri Ratas' government in 2018. Since then, the ten-year perspective has been reduced to eight as the plan, if approved, would apply until 2030.
Logging volumes have been the main point of contention in society. The new development plan would see current volumes dialed back slightly.
"Weighing different scenarios, we found that a sustainable volume could be around 9-11 million cubic meters annually," said Marku Lamp, deputy secretary general of the ministry. "The previous development plan put it at 12-15 million cubic meters. The average annual felling volume during that period came to 11 million cubic meters, which will rather be the maximum moving forward."
Unsurprisingly, the new development plan satisfies neither those looking to protect forests nor the industry.
"It still perpetuates the current intensive forest management model for the next decade," said Kärt Vaarmari, consultant at the Environmental Law Center.
The main consequences of this is Estonia's inability to hit climate targets.
"The principle is that forests need to be able to absorb the carbon we emit as greenhouse gases. Estonia emits a lot, and recent data suggests our forests are no longer able to absorb enough of it, have lost that balancing role," Vaarmari said.
"I agree that the forestry development plan does not observe climate targets in the best possible way, because, looking at the big picture, we want forests to absorb carbon. We know that we have a lot of mature forests, which should be processed as far as climate targets are concerned," Henrik Välja, executive manager of the Estonian Forest and Timber Industry Association, said.
The industry finds that the new development plan does not allow enough logging, while Välja did not say what he would like the volume to be.
"In the end, logging volumes are a combination of different components, and I do not believe it should strictly be a matter of political decision. We need to look at the makeup of managed forests and mature forest reserves, while we must also proceed from market and weather conditions," Marku Lamp said.
"While its name suggests we're dealing with a development plan, in truth, it is more of a recession or stagnation plan."
Despite criticism from both sides, the ministry remains hopeful that the Riigikogu will find necessary political consensus.
"We would like to hope that the Riigikogu will have enough time to process and pass the bill once it lands there," Lamp remarked.
Minister of the Environment Madis Kallas (SDE) said that the forestry development plan will always be a compromise, adding that the matter of logging volumes is not the most important aspect of the plan and was not paid enough attention during deliberations.
"But I think it is the best possible alternative today. Should the Riigikogu disagree and find it not good enough, that is a matter for future debates," Kallas offered.
Editor: Barbara Oja