Private forest owners dealing with aftermath of storms

Aftermath of the storm of August 30-31, 2023, which hit the park in Tsooru, Võru County.
Aftermath of the storm of August 30-31, 2023, which hit the park in Tsooru, Võru County. Source: Leevi Lillemäe/ERR

Over the past few months, Estonia has experienced at least two major storms, with the strong winds also causing havoc in the country's forests. Just over half of Estonia's forests are owned by private landowners, and while storm damage assessments are still being made, it is already clear that the impact on private forest owners is significant. Among other issues, it is economically unfeasible to clear the debris left over after major storms.

In late August, a storm hit southern Estonia, bringing down over 100 trees in Tsooru Park, Võru County. It also devastated forests in the area earmarked for the extension of the Nursipalu training facility and wreaked havoc on several private forests. Even now, some private forest owners are still clearing up the damage caused by the August storm in their areas of forest. The storm, which hit Estonia last weekend also brought down trees deep inside the country's forests, as well as those by roads and close to power lines.

Kadri-Aija Viik, chair of the NGO United Forest Owners (Ühinenud Metsaomanikud), said that at present there is no comprehensive picture of the extent of the damage caused by the storm damage to private forest owners. However, based on feedback received from private forest owners, the damage is significant and a lot of work needs to be done.

"First of all, storm damage repairs are much more expensive for private forest owners than the regular forest management authorities. This type of storm damage usually requires the felling of dangerous trees or something of that ilk. Usually, they are also in places that are quite difficult to access and their volume is small, so, economically, it is inefficient," said Viik.

According to Martin Arula, CEO of AS Toftan, a company that buys timber, mainly in southeastern Estonia and eastern Latvia, from the industry's perspective, it seems that forest owners are currently postponing regular felling in undamaged forests, as their machinery is occupied with clearing the storm damage. Arula added, that if the storm debris is cleared professionally, then the timber can be used for more than simply firewood or pulp.

"If this storm debris has been handled in a professional way, then most of that wood is likely to be good quality," Arula explained.

Ivar Sibul, associate professor of dendrology and forest entomology at the Estonian University of Life Sciences (Maaülikool), said that the sooner the storm damage in the forest is dealt with, the better, as damaged wood is attractive to a variety of different insects.

"The fallen or broken trees that are left in the forest will quickly be colonized by various insects in spring. If we are talking about spruces, the owner should continue monitoring the situation in spring and summer the following year," Sibul said, adding that it could lead to issues further down the line.

According to Viig, timber prices have recently fallen slightly again, though this cannot be directly linked to the storm damage. Arula said that forest owners' timber supplies have also increased over the past three weeks, but to account for the drop in timber costs, other factors, such as the low demand for timber on the world market, need to be considered instead.

"There have been these kinds of reasons behind the lowering of timber prices before. However, as there is a shortage of timber on the market, efforts are being made to pay for the last of it. But, the reason for the price drop, once again, has not been to take advantage of this storm situation," Arula said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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