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EU plan to limit lumbering volumes could negatively affect Estonia

A young-growth pine forest.
A young-growth pine forest. Source: (Virgo Siil)

The European Commission is planning to limit lumbering, which may put Estonia into an awkward situation, as it could either agree to continue the same way and pay, or accept the limit and see some of its natural resources go to waste, daily Eesti Päevaleht wrote on Tuesday.

During its presidency of the Council of the European Union, Estonia has to try and get member states to find consensus regarding the proposal introduced by the European Commission about a year ago.

According to Päevaleht, Estonia couldn’t continue with its current lumbering volumes or increase them in the coming decades if the measure should enter into effect.

At the same time, compensation for continued lumbering wouldn’t necessarily have to be financial. Other actions to preserve the environment could take the place of payments for environmental permits.

According to the proposal, the EU would define a maximum volume per member state, beyond which that state would then have to buy environmental permits to continue lumbering and increase volumes.

As the Ministry of Environment’s forestry advisor Kadi Kõiv says, Estonia has 2.2 ha of woodlands. As new forest was continuously planted, current lumbering volumes did not endanger the total amount of forests. The development was sustainable.

The Commission’s direction was potentially damaging to Estonia, as the share of forest old enough to be lumbered simply was rather large at the moment, Kõiv said. A third of Estonia’s woodlands was theoretically at a point where it could be lumbered, which made the choice difficult: Either pay and continue at present volumes, or let part of the forests rot.

That is why the Commission’s proposal doesn’t make sense from the perspective of the life cycle of Estonia’s forests, the ministry finds.

Compensation for lumbering is currently being discussed at the EU level, including the option of traded permits.

Following a complicated formula, the plan proposed by the Commission calls for a total lumbering volume of eight to nine million cubic meters a year. This is below the current lumbering volume of about ten million cubic meters, a number that has remained roughly the same since 2012.

The EU’s idea of lumbering is closer to that of Estonia’s environmental organizations, who have recently complained about the state’s approach to the issue. The tendency is to increase volumes even further, towards 15 million cubic meters a year. A planned high-tech pulp mill for the Viljandi or Tartu area with a planned processing capacity of three to five million cubic meters a year will even make it necessary to import timber from Latvia—which is facing a similar discussion over natural resources as well.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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