Madis Kallas (SDE), Estonia's environment minister until this Monday, said that the Riigikogu will pass the previous government's forestry development plan and that felling volume will be dialed back in amendments to the Forest Act.
The coalition agreement makes scarce mention of felling volumes. "We will pass the forestry development plan and improve the quality of forestry data," the document reads. This phrasing leaves it unclear whether the XV Riigikogu plans to pass the previous government's plan or put together a new one.
Jevgeni Ossinovski, chief whip for the Social Democratic Party in the new parliament, said that the development plan should be changed.
"What the coalition has agreed on is passing the forestry development plan once compliance with ecological and climate policy needs has been ensured," Ossinovski said, adding that the plan's prescribed logging volume should observe Estonia's international obligations. "It is clear that a total annual logging volume of 10 million solid cubic meters is in accordance with neither."
The recent version of the development plan was sent to the parliament by former Environment Minister Madis Kallas (SDE) "The agreement today is that the development plan, which, I believe, six ministers have helped put together, will be passed in its current finished form. That was the agreement during talks," Kallas said.
He emphasized that total logging volume has been set at 9-11 million cubic meters in the plan's annex, as well as that the development plan also includes the goal of ensuring diversity of forests and compliance with climate targets.
"And if meeting those targets requires us to cut logging to below nine million cubic meters, then that is what needs to be done," Kallas said.
Nesting season moratorium and smaller clearcutting areas
Ossinovski said that the forestry development plan should be passed in the fall once the government has finished preparing amendments to the Forest Act to lower logging volumes. Madis Kallas also said the Forest Act needs to be amended as soon as possible.
"We do not currently have levers with which to govern logging volume in private forests," Kallas said. He proposed several potential solutions. "We could have smaller clearcutting areas, change the rotation age, reclassify forest land that counts as forest etc. But we can only do these things by changing the law."
The former minister believes that reducing the maximum size of clearcutting areas will lower total logging volume. "Additionally, we could enforce a stricter period of no logging during the nesting season, which would also bring down the total."
Both the development plan and potential changes to the Forest Act need to pass through the Riigikogu Environment Committee. The new head of the committee, Eesti 200's Tarmo Tamm, said that a spring logging break was also a part of his party's program.
"We are in favor of that," Tamm said. "Personally, I think it is an emotional welfare society problem and will not make much difference." Talking about the size of clearcutting areas or rotation age, Tamm said a goal should be laid down before any amendments are introduced.
"If the aim is to persecute someone, I'm sure we could find ways to do it," Tamm said. "However, we should first come up with what we want to achieve and only then how to do it."
Tamm: Logging volume has no bearing on price of timber in Estonia
Tarmo Tamm said that any restrictions for forest owners need to fetch compensation. Madis Kallas agrees. He pointed out that the coalition agreement prescribes reviewing recent compensation schemes.
The Eesti 200 politician suggested that the balance between economic and environmental issues is out of whack when talking about forests. "It was among the reasons I decided to run for parliament, to try and help restore some of that balance."
"We cannot keep banning everything. We are banning oil shale heating, then we'll ban wood heating and say that we need to find another way. That is not a solution," Tamm said.
Tarmo Tamm is a member of the board of NGO Woodhouse Estonia and a minority stakeholder of glued timber manufacturer Peetri Puit. The company made a profit of over €3 million at a turnover of €25 million in 2021. Its dividend payment came to half a million euros.
Tamm, who is about to head up the Riigikogu Environment Committee, said that claims in the media about a possible conflict of interest are unfounded. The timber sector and the environment should not be made out to be enemies, he said. "First, we need to determine whether greater of smaller logging volume is more environmentally friendly. Perhaps it is not necessary to cut the volume from the environmental point of view," he suggested.
He also said that he would not benefit from increased felling volume in Estonia. "This idea that the price of timber is dependent on logging volume in Estonia is exaggerated," Tamm said, explaining that the price of timber depends on larger markets in Central Europe, France and Germany.
"The price of timber in the region is precisely what it is in Germany minus transport," Tamm said. "The price does not depend on how much is logged in Estonia. The price of wood chips may be affected," he continued. Peetri Puit uses sawn timber. "We already buy from Sweden, Finland and Latvia and sometimes pay less [than in Estonia]. Estonia's logging volume has no bearing on my business."
Editor: Marcus Turovski