Environment minister pushes through forest felling order

An Estonian RMK-owned forest (photo is illustrative).
An Estonian RMK-owned forest (photo is illustrative). Source: RMK

Minister of the Environment Madis Kallas (SDE) has unilaterally ruled that that tree felling on state forest management (RMK) land is to be reduced for 2023, effectively putting into effect a postponed decision from the end of last year.

The move is significant in that with the dissolution of the Riigikogu and the impending elections, the current coalition government is in effect a caretaker administration, until the next coalition is formed.

The move has proved unpopular among industry lobbyists, though more so with conservationists.

The volume, now set at a little over 9,000 hectares (ha. - down from nearly 10,500ha. nationwide) mostly concerns the renewal or regeneration felling of pine forests in particular.

Madis Kallas S(DE), environment minister. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Henrik Välja, director of the Estonian Forest and Wood Industries Association (Metsa- ja puidutööstuse liit) told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Friday that: "We think the decision is the wrong one."

"It will bring inevitable consequences, both for the competitiveness of our exporting industry and for employment in rural areas, as well as for public budgets," Välja continued.

Henrik Välja Source: ERR

"State and private forests alike are audited several times per year, by independent auditors. So far, there has been no indication that our actions have not been in line with sustainable forest management. The minister's regulation primarily affects pine trees, which are in fact provide the type of timber which gives the greatest valorisation in the timber industry," he went on.

Pine timber logging made up 70-80 percent for the total, Välja added, saying that the bulk of Estonia's timber exports are in this category, whereas not much in the way of pulp, firewood or wood chippings are derived from pine input.

In addition to export, the main uses for pine felled in Estonia include wooden frames for houses.

Conversely, conservationists, while happy with the step, say that it does not go far enough.

Siim Kuresoo, head of the Estonian Fund for Nature (Eestimaa Looduse Fond) forestry program, told AK the reduction should go further, though was certainly a "good start."

Siim Kuresoo. Source: Personal collection.

"Taking into consideration the fact that that less in the way of old forest will be felled within RMK forest land this year, then this certainly means that the un-felled areas resulting will mean both more habitat for wildlife and less of a carbon footprint," Kuresoo said.

Meanwhile, RMK director, Mikk Marran, said his organization was pleased that the decision had been made, ending as it did a three-month impasse, though added the volume might have been around 1,000ha. larger, a figure he said he had proposed to the minister.

The rationale given by Marran was that renewal or regeneration felling needs are higher at present, given the amount of forest reaching maturation, having being planted as far back as the immediate post-war period.

Marran told AK that: "Right now, we have a glut of renewal forest, in relation to the volume of forest planted after World War Two, much of which has matured as of now."

RMK director Mikk Marran. Source: ERR

Regeneration volumes would, decades later fall, he added,

"In the longer term, logging volumes will begin to fall. To talk about the 30-40 year perspective, based on our initial estimates, the volume of renewal logging will stand at about 7,000-7,500ha per year," Marran went on.

Marran said that he plans to approach the next environment minister, whoever it may be, after the March 5 election and the ensuing coalition formation, to lobby for greater logging volumes.

Minister Kallas made a unilateral decision to reduce RMK renewal felling volumes per year, from the current 10,490ha., to 9,180ha., over the next five years.

Felling necessitated by damage incurred by bark beetle, which primarily affects spruce trees, will be added to this 9,180ha. total, the environment ministry says.

State forests account for a third of annual raw material timber, in all purposes and sectors, in Estonia, AK reported. The remaining two thirds of timber volumes derive either from privately.-owned forest, or are imported.

Around half of Estonia's forests are RMK-owned, while forest of all kind covers around a half of Estonia's land area. This means Estonia, along with several other northern European countries, also has to implement EU policies which often pertain as much to much more sparsely-forested Western European nations.

Daily Poistimees reports on its English-language page that, pursuant to the Forest Act, the Minister of the Environment is required to specify on an annual basis the optimal area of timber permitted to be cut, as regeneration felling, in RMK and any other state forest land, including the area of pine stands, spruce stands, birch stands and aspen stands by tree species,.

This should be done in respect of each manager of state forest by December 1 of the preceding year.

Madis Kallas made this proposal at the start of December 2022, but it was not approved at that time.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera'

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