Estonia tree-cutting is bringing more harm than good


Sometimes back in the Estonia Haanja nature reserve, one could walk from one side of the reserve to another under a canopy of trees.  It was an attractive place full of ancient woodlands where people would relax and reinvigorate their minds.  The bad news is that in 2015, the Estonian government permitted the clear-cutting in the Haanja nature reserve. This involves harvesting all mature trees and getting rid of the entire tree trunks. Most of the trees were cut down by the logging company Valga Puu, Graanul Invest Group subsidiary. It is one of the largest of Europe’s wood pellets producers, which are used as biomass for light or heat in various Europe’s coal-fired stations.

In Estonia, forests have coverage of 2 million hectares or more. Approximately 380,000 hectares are under the EU’s Natura 2000 network, which has the mandate to protect and preserve Europe’s forests. The EU’s Natura 2000 network is also responsible for protecting rare and threatened species. Twenty-nine species are protected in the Haanja nature reserve, including the black stork, which is a lesser-spotted eagle, and the corncrake. The Natura-protected sites’ management falls under the 1992 habitats directive’s legal provisions and the 1979 EU birds’ directive. Domestic laws govern the logging, and Estonia allows it as far as it does not interfere with special habitats and bogs or happen when birds are mating.

Campaigners say that by Estonia permitting thorough clearing of trees in Natura 2000 zones, it breaches its habitats directive and goes against the EU’s climate goals. Siim Koresoo, who comes from a non-profit Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF), said that intensive logging is highly attributed to the higher demand for biomass for power and heat. He added that in 2019 half of Estonia’s wood pellets were exported in the UK, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

There have been many complaints from different organizations, one being the Council of Estonian Environmental NGOs (EKO). EKO, which ELF is a member of, has presented their complaints to the European Commission, saying Estonia intensive tree-cutting is a breach of their forest conservation responsibilities.

Between the 2001 and 2019 period, Natura 2000 zones have lost over 15,000 hectares of their forest cover. More than 80% of these 15,000 hectares were destroyed within the last five years, and the Estonian government is planning to alter the rules to allow clear-cutting in other national parks. Tree cutting is greatly affecting bird species, especially woodlark and black grouse, where woodland birds are decreasing at a rate of 50,000 breeding pairs per year.