A national plan for Estonia's forest contains too many inconsistencies to be adopted in the dying days of the XIV Riigikogu, one Isamaa MP says.
Andres Metsoja (pictured), who chairs the Riigikogu's environment committee, says the forestry development plan (MAK) will not get passed before the Riigikogu is dissolved, ahead of the March 5 election.
Metsjoa said: "We in the coalition reached a preliminary agreement on the MAK in mid-January, which went from the government to the Riigikogu, passing its first reading."
"Unfortunately, in the intervening weeks, it has become clear that the [state forestry commission] RMK is also preparing its own new development plan in parallel, while the points that emerged there are in direct conflict with the MAK currently under Riigikogu proceedings," he continued.
Putting it back to the XV Riigikogu's composition, after the general election, will provide an opportunity to look at it in conjunction with other major national projects, he added.
Part of the issue is also that the MAK does not factor in felling needed for some of these projects, he said.
"The under-development plan states that forest land must not reduce in size in Estonia, but the potential logging works for the expansion of the Nursipalu [military] training ground, and the creation of route corridors necessary for [other] major infrastructure projects, will take significant areas out of the calculation of forested land. There is no system to replace these, although they should be part of the MAK, " Metsaoja continued.
The state forest management board, the RMK, which oversees around half of Estonia's forested land, is expected by the state itself to see a continually rising revenue to state coffers, while felling volumes are simultaneously reduced, he added.
This might entail, he noted, the RMK charging fees for the public to use recreation areas and hiking trails, while Metsaoja also called into question the involvement of the RMK in a wood chemicals planned concern.
Moreover, stakeholders have not met consensus on the MAK, he added, noting that these included environmentalists, landowners, businesses and others.
While the next few years are to inevitably see a fall in felling volumes, Metsoja added, since the sector directly employs around 30,000 people (over 2 percent of the population-ed.), with a similar figure indirectly linked to it, the state cannot take an "arrogant" attitude towards business, he said.
A "forest capital" financial basis must be drawn up, based on the RMK, while its revenue should compensate for restrictions put in place by conservation requirements, Metsoja went on.
This plan should be enacted in tandem with the MAK or its equivalent, he said.
Minister of the Environment Madis Kallas (SDE) said it would be "a shame" if the MAK were not adopted, stating that a lot of work had gone into it, but at the same time, Kallas was doubtful of a consensus being met even as MPs will discuss the bill again this week.
Environment minister: Isamaa has ulterior motives for pulling out of MAK agreement
Environment Minister Madis Kallas (SDE) told ERR later on Tuesday that he was "saddened" to have had to have read about Isamaa's decision on the matter via the media.
"Up to now, the discussions had always been meaningful, while the assumption was that coalition partners would be informed directly, and not through the media," Kallas went on.
"The arguments presented in connection with the RMK development plan have been scrutinized, but the real reasons lie somewhere elsewhere," he added.
"It could be boldly stated that the direction of the forestry development plan to move towards more sustainable forest management does not sit well with Isamaa," Kallas continued.
Kallas also called Isamaa's reasons for canning the plan on the grounds of ideas expressed by the RMK chief "strange", adding that Isamaa had been aware of the plan and its progress for a long time.
Since the plan had been part of the agreement signed between Isamaa, SDE and Reform last summer, Kallas said there had been high hopes for its adoption.
With that in mind, the MAK development and work done had been "abused" Kallas added.
Reform MP: Isamaa's snap decision 'insulting'
Reform Party MP Yoko Alender, who sits on the Riigikogu environment committee, called Isamaa's move "sudden", adding "trashing" the plan was an insult to those who had worked on it and who had long-held concerns over the state of Estonia's forests.
She said: "Isamaa does not provide any substantive justification for its behavior. The false and irrelevant justification of the RMK development plan and its contradiction with MAK is insulting to all those who are about the state of forests."
Alender also suspected ulterior motives but was even more forthright about these than Kallas had been, stating that timber industry lobbyists were behind it.
"While business has to stand up for itself if he doesn't like something, politicians, on the other hand, have a duty to be better informed and make decisions based on accurate information," she went on, expressing a hope that the next Riigikogu will get to process and adopt the MAK.
RMK chief: Agency had been waiting for the forestry development plan for years
Head of the RMK Mikk Marran said that his organization had been awaiting the MAK's finalization for "many years", noting that last March, the RMK board had already been informed about starting on the plan.
Marran, former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluureamet) became RMK director last November, said he presented his vision on implementing the plan soon after starting in the post.
He also rebutted claims that the RMK would charge fees to the public or work with the wood chemicals industry.
Paid hiking trails had been just one part of a brainstorming session which included another suggestion that the public be given the opportunity to voluntarily support the maintenance of their hiking routes.
However, "None of these ideas are part of the development plan. I stress once again: Traversing [RMK] forests is, and will remain, free of charge," Marran said.
The MAK would set the annual felling volume at between 9 and 11 million cubic meters.
The bill passed its first reading, but two more readings are required to pass before a bill enters into law. Additionally, substantive amendments and their accompanying debates take place between the first and second readings.
The XIV Riigikogu's last working day is Thursday, February 23.
This article was updated to include comments from Madis Kallas, Yoko Alender and Mikk Marran.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov