Today, the Riigikogu held a discussion on “How is the Estonian forest?” as a matter of significant national importance at the initiation of the Social Democratic Party Group.
The Chairman of the Management Board of the State Forest Management Centre (RMK) Mikk Marran told the Riigikogu that Estonia’s state-owned forests were doing well and that RMK was managing these sustainably. “As we know, forest management is sustainable if it ensures biological diversity, productivity, regeneration, and diverse options of using the forest which satisfy ecological, economic, social, and cultural needs. Sustainable management of state-owned forests is attested by two international certificates awarded to RMK: the FSC certificate and the PEFC certificate. These are proof that the RMK cuts are sustainable in the long run,” he said.
Concerning the soon-to-be-completed five-year development plan of the RMK, Marran highlighted the focus on biological diversity and ecological state of the forests. Consequently, there is a plan to continue developing both the collection of data on forests as well as the broader RMK planning system, and there is also an ambition to increase the percentage of mixed forests among state-owned forests and match the logging activities better with the natural conditions. “This means using different management approaches in clear cutting, as well as fitting logging sites better into natural areas by their size and shape. Because, after all, not all RMK logging sites have to be rectangular, nor spruce monocultures.”
RMK is planning a number of changes over the next five years in environmental impact assessment, planning, accessibility to data on state-owned forests, involvement of people and interest groups, increasing the carbon capture capabilities of forests, offering nature’s benefits, and also organisational development. “And last but not least: RMK will keep managing Estonia’s state-owned forests and bringing high quality raw materials to the market, and will definitely keep contributing to Estonia’s state budget through its dividends,” he said.
University of Tartu Professor in Conservation Biology Asko Lõhmus proposed in his report that the probable common ground of researchers and politicians concerning the state of Estonia’s forests revolves around the question of sustainability of forest management. “What is the connection between reduced timber resources, negative effects to climate, diminished bird life, and lessening of public benefits offered by the forests? The connection is that these all constitute criteria or indicators of sustainable forestry management. These indicators are not unlike personal health indicators: just one illness is enough to feel ill, but many illnesses at once make you feel even worse. There is another connection between these indicators. All were known or at least predicted back in 2017 already,” he said.
Lõhmus observed that if forest management in Estonia has been unsustainable for some time and if nothing has been done to improve the situation, this has been a significant decision by the government. “Even during all the seven years of public debate, the central government forest policy has remained in favour of intensive, market mechanism driven and short-term oriented forestry, which has increased polarisation in the field of forestry, injustice in the society, clashes with climate goals, and damage to several natural treasures,” he said.
Lõhmus sympathised with the concerns of ecologically conscious forest owners when the remnants of natural values from clearcut sites move to the woodland that they have worked to preserve, and conservationists then try to ensure the survival of at least that piece of wilderness through legal restrictions. He also sympathised with the plight of rural households who were losing jobs in local wood industries that were running out of the raw material or demand for their products.
“But the question of fairness goes far beyond the question of how much more forests can still be cut down under the law. It leads to those forest owners who have been able to violate the values and principles of sustainable forest management on huge areas. It leads to the companies who have built their businesses and their expansion plans on timber collected in this way. It leads to the colossal image building campaigns of big companies, including RMK, which have stymied valuable discussions and solutions. It leads to green business models that are green in certificates and name only against the background of ever deepening depletion of nature,” he said, pointing out that facts can no longer be covered up that well. “And it leads to the question whether we are lacking knowledge or the will to face the facts. It leads to the government and the governance.”
University of Tartu Professor of Restoration Ecology and Science Adviser to the Minister of Climate Aveliina Helm warned against underestimating the threat of climate change and loss of diversity on our own systems, forests, and economy. Diverse forests are what ensure our resilience to climate change. “Where we are going is a completely different Estonia climatically to the one we are coming from. This forces us to adapt post-haste and act with great wisdom. We could even say – and researchers are using this term quite frequently – that we are moving to an unmapped territory. The only way to prepare is to move towards this new future with a variety of systems in place,” she said.
Helm drew attention to the need for credible forest data. “Today, the official data, collection of national data, still includes points where the methodology has not been explained enough, so we could understand how we got there,” she explained.
She also highlighted the need for improving spatial planning, introduce, apply, and support more varied forest management practices, review issues with draining, and more sustainable use of resources. “It is crucial to start thinking how less could give us more and what are the levers that would truly allow us to skilfully refine the benefits from forests, including timber,” Helm said.
Member of the Social Democratic Party Group Tiit Maran told the Riigikogu that it was the right moment to reach a cross-generational national agreement on how we approach forest as our national treasure in all its functions. “This requires a statesmanly decision – one that is not confined to the present but also looks towards the future,” he said.
Maran calls for sustainable forest management in Estonia. “In practice, we need to introduce the principle of standard usage felling sites by majority tree species in managed forests to achieve transparency, sustainability of forests across generations, and confidence. Sadly, sustainability is linked to the assessment of forest resources,” he noted, adding that we also needed to end clear cutting and strip cutting in protected areas. “We definitely need to support developing permaforestry in these areas, and yet those areas also contain a lot of privately owned forests, private owners. We need to give some very serious thought on how to compensate for the changing expectations to private forest owners.”
Maran explained that the statistical reviews of forests have for years shown the total reserve of Estonia’s forests and the reduction of the average hectare reserves of woodlands. “Reserves of managed forests must not diminish. This means that if we keep the current volumes of felling, this reserve will obviously inevitably reduce. And that means that we are actually managing today’s forests at the expense of the future. Of course, we must also take into account that if we do that, we incur carbon penalties which further increase our future burden,” he said.
Consequently, Maran found it paramount to consider how we could reduce felling volumes in a way to keep the general reserves of our woodlands from reducing. “It is in that form that forests could actually fulfil their role through all the generations,” he added.
During the debate, Jevgeni Ossinovski (Social Democratic Party Group), Rain Epler (Estonian Conservative People’s Party Group) Igor Taro (Estonia 200 Party Group), and Yoko Alender (Reform Party Group) took the floor. Tõnis Mölder spoke on behalf of the Isamaa Parliamentary Group.
The first readings of four Bills initiated by the Government were deferred from the agenda of the sitting due to the end of the working hours. These were the Bill on Amendments to the Building Code and Other Acts (acceleration of the deployment of renewable energy) (308 SE), Bill on Amendments to the Information Society Services Act and the Penal Code (224 SE), Bill on Amendments to the Imprisonment Act, the Penal Code, the Probation Supervision Act and the Code of Enforcement Procedure (updating of the Imprisonment Act and the deployment of digital solutions) (227 SE), and Bill on the Ratification of the Amendments to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (226 SE).
The sitting ended at 1.44 p.m.
Photos (Erik Peinar / Chancellery of the Riigikogu)
Video recording will be available to watch later on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.