A contractor of Estonia's State Forest Management Center (RMK) illegally cut a kilometer worth of access corridors in a special management zone forest during work to restore wetlands in Õngu. RMK failed to detect the violation and admits supervision was insufficient after being notified by an environmental NGO.
The national forest manager said the incident constitutes one of the most serious mistakes made during natural conservation work in recent years.
Margus Tuulmees, representative of OÜ Tekamer which handled the Õngu Bog restoration work for RMK, said that their employee cut straight through the forest to get to the fuel truck but had no further comments, pointing to the Environmental Board's ongoing investigation.
The violation was discovered by Mati Sepp, member of NGO For Estonian Forests (Eesti Metsa Abiks), who suggested that the relevant question is what caused RMK to miss the error.
"It is a crucial project in a special management zone. They should have followed the corridor for a kilometer from where they parked their car to discover the first violation, while it seems they were not up to the task. That is telling in itself," Sepp suggested.
"The manager carried out sporadic checks. There were no violations in places they visited. This caused the contractor to be trusted with other work sections. It serves as lesson for us to improve our supervision efforts," said Kaupo Kohv, head of RMK's nature conservation department.
While the error did not cause any economic damage as the restoration project prescribed leaving logged trees in the forest, unnecessary access corridors constitute damage to the natural environment.
Sepp also criticized the fact the harvester was not fitted with a GPS device to allow RMK to keep an eye on its movements.
"It has taken everyone by surprised that there are still machines, tree shears in this case, which do not have GPS devices fitted, to suggest that RMK still blindly trusts logging companies," Sepp remarked.
RMK has launched an in-house audit and is cooperating with the Environmental Board's investigation.
"Damage was done to the natural environment during work to restore wetlands in Õngu. This is extremely unfortunate, we apologize and there can be no justification. We have launched various activities at RMK to avoid such incidents in the future. We will be looking at how to improve supervision, and it is a virtual certainty we will be equipping all contractors' machinery with GPS devices for real-time supervision," CEO of RMK Mikk Marran said.
The Environmental Board said that as the Õngu conservation area is quite large, it will take more time to determine the extent of the damage.
Editor: Marcus Turovski