The Rõuge Municipality Council has proposed changing the Munamägi special management zone in the Haanja Nature Park to make it possible to use regeneration cutting to combat bark beetle damage.
Aigar Kalk, head of the council's environment and law enforcement committee, told ERR that the effect the bark beetle is having can be seen in the area's increasingly brown as opposed to green nature.
"If we imagine a person going bald, that is more or less how it looks from here. Looking down from the Suur Munamägi viewing tower, one can see a massive increase in bare fir trees," Kalk said.
But damaged trees cannot just be cut down in a special management zone, which prescribes promoting natural development with little to no human intervention, said Leelo Kukk, deputy head of Estonia's Environmental Board.
"The Munamägi is an area sporting a beautiful old spruce wood. The trees there are at the end of their biological age. If some trees or parts of the community die, reach the end of their life cycle, they are left there and new plants will take their place. Estonia lies in the boreal region, and even if a spruce wood dies there, deciduous trees will replace them before firs start growing in the area again," Kukk said.
The board has nevertheless granted the municipality permission to cut down bare trees next to visitation infrastructure on the Munamägi. The permit is valid inside a 30-meters wide corridor around the path leading to the tower and its surroundings.
The Rõuge Municipality Council finds this to be insufficient.
Kalk suggested that the Munamägi special management zone should be reclassified as an exclusive economic zone where it would be possible to pursue regeneration cutting and balanced forest management aimed at maintaining local biota.
"Severe restrictions meant to preserve spruce woods rich in forbs in the Munamägi area and special management zone – they don't currently, these restrictions are not serving their purpose. It would be sensible to take some steps at this time," Kalk suggested.
The Environmental Board has proposed amending regulations governing regeneration and restorative cutting as a compromise.
Marika Erikson, adviser at the nature conservation department of the Ministry of the Environment, said that an expert assessment of the proposals is needed based on which the minister will decide whether the conservation zone will be reclassified.
Both Kukk and Kalk said that before a final decision is made, there should be a public debate over what kind of nature people want to see when visiting the Suur Munamägi.
"I very much hope that when the experts come to evaluate the situation, the local community will be involved when agreeing how and what to do," Kalk said.
Suur Munamägi is the highest peak in the Baltics at 317.4 meters above sea level that is crowned by an observation tower overlooking the area.
Editor: Marcus Turovski