Privatization not good for forestry

  • 2000-08-03
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - According to the Estonian Nature Fund, the continuation of the Estonian forests is in big danger. If the government does not get control over the cutting quantities, more than one third of the Estonian forests could be cut down in the period of 10 years.

"The Ministry of Environment claims that everything is under control and at the same time says that they haven't got any reliable statistics," said Rainer Kuuba, representative of the Estonian Nature Fund.

"The cutting quantity is increasing fast in a short time, mostly at the expense of private forests, and there are no signs of slowdown. The more land is privatized, the bigger the problem. People want to make money fast," said Kuuba.

Andres Talijarv from the ministry, who is also the chairman of the council of the state Forest Management Center, is of the opinion that the Estonian Nature Fund, like all other outward organizations, is trying to pressure the ministry in order to protect their interests.

"They forget that administrating forests is an acceptable method," said Talijarv. "The state institution should place itself in a neutral position towards the environment protectors and the businessmen."

The ministry determined that 7.8 million cubic meters is the annual acceptable cutting limit. From spring 1998 to spring 1999, harvesters cut 7.5 million cubic meters, twice as much as in 1995.

But the problem is that the forest has been cut intensively on a very small area, and the most cut trees are pine, spruce and birch, said Kuuba. Kuuba said the sale of aspen and alder does not bring in much money and are thus not popular.

Talijarv predicted that the number of evergreen trees would decrease on the account of deciduous by 5 percent to 6 percent in the near future.

"It is not bad that people raise birches, if there is a big demand for that and the investment pays itself back fast," said Talijarv. "But besides replanting, forest owners should do more maintenance work," said Talijarv.

"The forest as well as the rest of the harvest should be cut down when it is mellow," said Talijarv.

"The state authorities think people are poor and forests should be given to them. But the cuttings have taken such big measures like during the first independence in 1920, when forests were heavily cut and the wood came very irregularly afterwards. It is difficult to develop forestry in this manner," said Kuuba.

Kuuba said Estonia might also lose a lot of its intact nature and the rare animals and plants that grow there. As an example, the nest of a rare bird black stork was cut down on private land in Poltsamaa.

"All the other European nations have gone through these stupidities. Why should we follow them?" said Kuuba.

Kuuba said many people are of the opinion that mature forests will start making loss, but actually they do still produce profit, but imore slowly. He said only the forests that are not replanted do not not bring in profit.

According to Kuuba, less than 10 percent of the privatized forests are replanted. Forest replanting to match the cutting quantities has only taken place in state forests. About 60 percent of the state-owned forests are replanted, and natural seeding does the rest.

"The replanting of state forests does not compensate for the losses in private forests. Therefore we should be grateful that the land reform lasted that long," said Kuuba.

Talijarv said that according to a specialist from a world environment protection organization, only 10 percent of the forest has to be replanted and the rest will recover by itself.

"My opinion is that at least 50 percent has to be replanted," said Talijarv. He added that the land had not been scarred so deeply that it would fail to recover.

Kuuba also disclosed that only about 30 percent of the taxes from forest business are paid. He said it is very common to avoid paying value added tax and social tax. The state has thus lost 1 billion kroons of revenue.

Talijarv said that currently it is more difficult to fool the government, and tax evasion schemes have become more complex.

"When wood is sold to a sawmill, the VAT is paid directly to the state budget by the sawmill," said Talijarv.

Today, forested land makes up nearly half of the surface of the Estonia. By the end of 1999, almost 1 million hectares of land were registered as state property, about 40 percent of the total number of forests. Of this area, forest makes up almost 78 percent and marshlands equal 15 percent.

The new law on forests adopted at the end of 1998 does provide for a more stringent replanting requirement, but people do not obey these regulations, said Kuuba.

"Even the constitution says it is important to protect nature. People think that there are no obligations toward the forest, but only a revenue to be made. The economic development law also says renewable resources used should be reproduced in the same amount," said Kuuba.

Talijarv said some amendments will be made in the forest law, but this will not affect forest owners. Although the quantity cut has tripled during the last seven years, Talijarv believes the law, as well as the economic environment, will hinder the enormous increase in forest cuttings. He said the capacity of the Estonian woodcutters is about 8 million cubic meters, and there is no demand for more wood.

The average price of the standing crop at the state forest auctions in 1999 was 200 kroons per cubic meter, which is 29 kroons less than in 1998.

The export of wood and wood products gives about 15 percent of the total exports in Estonia. "As the share of wood imports is trivial, exports related to wood and wood products give almost 6.5 billion kroons positive cash flow in the trade balance," said Talijarv.