The state of Estonia’s forests is the best in a century

Adele Johanson
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Photo: Arvo Meeks / Lõuna-Eesti Postimees

Despite an emotional debate about excessive logging, which has been going on in the public in recent months, the statistics state dispassionately: Estonia is presently more afforested than in any time during the past century.

The same debate flared up during the second reading of the forestry act amendments in the parliament on Wednesday (June 7): is the reduction of logging age of fir forests justified and isn’t the logging volume too high?

Figures show that while 21 percent of Estonia’s territory was covered with forests in 1920, 53 percent was afforested last year. The average age of Estonia’s forests has also significantly increased throughput past decades.

For example, it was 41 years in 1958, 49 years in 1988 and 56 years in 2014.

Increase was not recognized

The most afforested county is the island of Hiiumaa, where forests covered 22 percent of the territory in 1939 and more than 70 percent at present.

“Where there were pastures, fields or meadows before the war, there are now forests or logging plots. Moose, deer and boars roam the former farm sites. On the contrary to widely spread misconception, they find a lot of food on logging sites”, forest businessman Mart Erik described the situation.

It is true that the definition of forest has changed over time. The forest area statistics of the 1920s did not include meadows with trees, although these were essentially forest areas. However, the 1940s statistics already include them.

The forest area calculations also depend on whether the bodies of water are included. And officials of the Soviet period were unwilling to report areas becoming afforested.

“The land balance was compiled at some time at the end of the Soviet era. But even these figures are not correct. They used bush as one of the categories of land. Actually these areas (presently privately-owned forests) were largely forests in the present sense. They were unwilling to report it to Moscow”, Erik said.

“We should further consider that reclassifying arable land to any other category was unlawful at that time and a collective farm chairman could lose his job when caught doing it. But if such land was not accessible for objective reasons and it became afforested? Did they report it honestly? Hardly”.

Despite everything it is a fact that forest areas are the largest today than anytime during the past hundred years.

“The steady increase of forest area is the history of our use of land, the story of its changing and it contains a loot of tragic aspects. The world war, deportations and the people moving away from villages opened an opportunity to the forest. It used the opportunity and thousands of hectares became naturally afforested”, said Tiit Timberg, board member of RMK, the State Forest Management Center.

Collective farms of the 1950s attempted to reclaim some of the forest area for farming, but the urbanization, which began in the 1960s, once more opened the door for the forest, Timberg said.

Age matters

Finally in the 1990s it became possible to register all existing forests and the area of forests increased further despite the enthusiasm for selling forest land and logging characterizing that period.

“The forest had matured and it was sold either for logging and retaining the land or together with the land. The money was spent on educating children, improving the home, on new cars, travel, even on alcohol – it all depended on the owner”, Erik said, adding that one cannot blame people for using their property the way they see fit.

The current use of forests depends on its age. “It has been apparently insufficiently explained and the public his still unaware of it that the volume of logging depends on the age structure of forests. We cannot influence it and mature forest cannot be preserved for the future”, Timberg said.

According to Timberg, it has always been and will remain a forest owner’s fate that they cut the trees planted and grown by the previous generations.

“What can we influence? We can plant and grow for the future generations as valuable or more valuable forests. Thousands of people are doing just that every day with great commitment”, Timberg said.