Bird-nesting season felling moratorium awaits new government approval

Logging work.
Logging work. Source: Kaupo KIkkas

The Ministry of the Environment has drafted an amendment to the Nature Conservation Act prohibiting tree felling in protected areas between April 15 and July 15. During the previous administration, political parties were unable to reach an agreement on forestry matters.

There is currently no formal official set-aside silent window for birds to nest in peace.

The Estonian State Forest Management Center (RMK) has managed a voluntary bird-truce program in state forests for over two decades. According to the agency's communications specialist, the state forest will be silent from April 15 to June 30 this year. Many private forest owners voluntarily observe the bird nesting season requirements as well.

Conservationists, on the other hand, argue that the silent window should be legally enforced and the time frame extended significantly. According to Kaarel Vhandu, the head of the Estonian Ornithological Society, the silent nesting season should be extended from April 15 to July 1 in commercial forests and from March 15 to August 31 in protected areas.

"We are already seeing a long-term decline in forest bird populations. The number of birds has fallen by an annual average of one percent over the last 35 years. This long-term decline is causing the extinction of the most endangered species, while even the most common species are becoming increasingly rare," Võhandu said.

The Estonian Private Forest Union (EPFU) is strongly opposed to imposing any legal constraints. Ando Eelmaa, chair of the board of the EPFU, said that before formally enshrining a moratorium on felling, it should be established with certainty whether the measure would help at all to limit the decline in bird numbers.

"There is no scientific evidence to back this up. It is largely subjective and somewhat arbitrary. This conclusion is based on a count of bird populations in Estonia, which shows a slight decrease in forest bird numbers and, separately, on the intensity of deforestation, which leads to the conclusion that the decline in bird numbers is due to deforestation, but there are many other factors influencing bird numbers," Eelmaa said.

According to a proposal from the Ministry of the Environment, the Nature Conservation Act should be revised so that the silence window lasts from April 15 to July 15 in the most important areas for birds and other forms of biodiversity.

In regular commercial woods, the situation would stay unchanged, i.e., voluntary. Environment Minister Madis Kallas (SDE) said that this was a compromise proposal.

"According to SDE, the legislation should encompass wider areas than just protected zones and the periods should also be longer. However, when it was discussed alongside the forest development plan, there was no consensus or shared understanding among the coalition partners, as a broader suspension of felling during the nesting season would have a significant impact on spring harvesting, and timber companies fear it would be too damaging for them," Kallas said.

Although bird nesting was not specifically brought up during coalition talks, Kallas said that the newly formed coalition is eager to advance in the areas of biodiversity and climate targets. He said that the deforestation moratorium is implicitly linked to the new coalition's overall approach to deforestation.


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Editor: Barbara Oja, Kristina Kersa

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