The current Estonian government promised in its coalition agreement to tax deforestation. The Ministry of Climate is now weighing whether to require deforesters to plant equal volumes of new forest to replace cleared trees as well.
Deforestation is the complete removal of a forest in order to convert it to some other, non-forest use, such as the construction of buildings, railways or roads.
Ministry of Climate Undersecretary Marku Lamp said that clearing forests for the construction of settlements or roads directly impedes on the achievement of nature conservation and climate targets, as it reduces the area of forested land, and thus reducing the amount of carbon it sequesters.
Lamp added that it's also necessary to compensate for deforestation because cutting down forests reduces suitable habitats available for forest biota as well as business income and tax revenues from forestry.
Ants Erik, board chair at the Estonian Private Forest Union (Eesti Erametsaliit, EEML) is in favor of the government's tax plan. He added, however, that tax revenue generated by deforestation should go to surrounding land- and forest owners, as deforestation could drive wildlife to relocate to adjacent forests, due to which the state may impose additional restrictions on the property owners.
"We don't want the abundance of species to decline," Erik said. "Certain species are even in critical condition already. But if such species relocate to land where there is forest growing and which has an owner, then that [owner] should be compensated."
Erik added that society currently has no clue where that money could come from.
Commenting on behalf of the ministry, Lamp said that if an area adjacent to a cleared area should suddenly turn into a high nature value (HNV) area, affected private forest owners will be entitled to additional compensation paid for nature protection restrictions.
"These compensation rates have gone up somewhat in recent years too, but forest owners' concerns or questions about whether this is fair to them are entirely understandable," the undersecretary said. "These negotiations are ongoing."
Likewise currently under discussion at the Ministry of Climate is to what extent deforesters should be required to replant forests in a practice known as replacement afforestation. This, too, would be to compensate for the negative impacts of deforestation.
Lamp said that trees taken down by deforesters should be replaced with at least the same amount of new forest.
"The question now is whether the forester themselves should find suitable land for this, whether the state should find this land or should a support scheme be drawn up with which the deforester pays a fee to the state and then the state thereafter finds this land," he explained.
The ministry official added, however, that afforesting valuable agricultural land best suited for producing food, for example, should be avoided as well.
While the initial government action plan called for the Climate Ministry to have come up with deforestation specifications and proposals by the middle of summer, according to Lamp, all of the details regarding the tax, such as the size thereof, nonetheless won't be clear until fall.
According to the Ministry of Climate's data, over the last decade, an average of 1,500 hectares of land in Estonia has been deforested each year, most of the time necessitated by the expansion of built-up areas. This was followed by deforestation for road construction purposes.
Editor: Aili Vahtla