Minister of Environment Madis Kallas (SDE) opted to exercise his legal power to lower annual state forest felling volumes from 10,490 to 9,180 hectares for the next five years, after failing to reach an agreement with coalition partners.
The reduction of the annual volume of felling in state forests from 2023 to 2027 will have the greatest impact on pine trees, followed by birch, aspen, and other tree species. The volume of trees that must be removed as a result of serious damage will be added to the planned 9,180 hectares.
Today, a week and a half prior to the election, social democrat Kallas has made the decision on his own. Regarding the State Forest Management Center (RMK), he has the legal authority to do so.
The minister also informed his coalition partners of the decision, and the Reform Party indicated it had taken notice.
"My message and our party's message has always been that the volume of felling must be gradually lowered to make forests more sustainable while simultaneously ensuring the processing of timber in Estonia," Kallas told ERR.
However, the incoming environment minister may reconsider Kallas' current stance after the elections.
The minister of the environment is required by the Forestry Act to establish annual felling volumes for state forest managers for the next five years, detailing the amounts for pines, spruces, fir trees and aspens.
On December 1, 2022, Kallas offered a proposal to the government to minimize the volume of felling, which is consistent with Environment Agency recommendations.
Mikk Marran, chairman of the management board of RMK, issued a statement to the media in response to Kallas' decision, saying that it is positive that RMK has clarity regarding the volume of state forest that will be logged over the next five years. "On this basis, we can now arrange our efforts more precisely," Marran added, and "also our partners, including timber buyers, will be able to make more precise plans."
The initial RMK felling volume proposal was for 10,250 hectares
RMK's initial suggestion for felling volumes was 10,250 hectares, based on the age distribution of forests, the requirements of sustainable forest management and the goal of ensuring the sustainability of forest management.
"RMK manages more than half of Estonia's wooded land, but we account for less than a third of Estonia's annual timber production," Marran said.
About one-third of the state forest is protected and maintained differently than usual, he added.
Industry: In his final weeks in office, the minister has destroyed jobs
In response, the Estonian Forest and Wood Industries Association (EFWIA) said, "Madis Kallas' decision made shortly before the elections to reduce felling volumes in the state forest already this year will deprive the timber industries, which are important employers in rural areas, of the raw material they require, and will result in an estimated €40 million reduction in RMK's profits from the state budget.
As the reduction in timber harvesting is intended to primarily come at the expense of the highest-quality pine logs, which are best suited for processing, the processing industry will be forced to shrink further in these already difficult times, resulting in an estimated €140 million loss in economic added value, the association said.
"In the name of short-term political populism, the social democrats have decided to destroy Estonia's largest exporting industry and its jobs at a time when unemployment is expected to rise and rural residents will find it harder to make a living. [The decision was made] without considering that the incoming parliament and government will have to cope with the repercussions," Henrik Valja, CEO of EFWIA, said.
This article has been updated to include comments from the State Forest Management Center and the timber sector.
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Indrek Kiisler, Kristina Kersa