TALLINN - The Environment Ministry and State Forest Management Center have announced that they will enact drastic reforms of Estonia's woodlands, a move that has drawn criticism from some politicians.
"There are actually two different processes going on at the same time," said Marku Lamp, head of the ministry's forest department. "One is restructuring the Estonian State Forest Center and the second is changing forest law."
The proposed reforms drew sharp criticism from some of Estonia's left-wing parties.
"They only talk about money and effectiveness, but there are social and cultural aspects as well," said Karel Ruutli, chairman of People's Union.
Activists have started a movement called "Let's Save Estonian Forests" that is battling against both processes. Their homepage lists three important changes that the organization hopes to make: removing a part of the law that requires 20 percent of the land to be state forests, allowing the land to be rented out for extended periods of time and cutting back on the number of jobs which could be lost through the change.
At the moment, the State Forest Management Center plans to leave only 17 woodland districts, a drastic cut from the current 63 districts. That means fewer workers 's while today there are 560 foresters, after the reform there will be only 250.
Kaupo Kohv of the Estonian Fund for Nature said that no real analysis was conducted before the Ministry proposed the reform.
"There hasn't been any analysis or research to show that reform really is useful. What there has been was one pilot project that lasted for three months. That's how they proved reform to be effective," Kohv said.
Both Kohv and Ruutli agree that the research should last at least one year because some of the projects that could be affected are seasonal.
"Of course it's possible that in some district there are more workers than the State Forest Management Center actually needs," Kaupo said.
Left wingers say that the government hasn't really considered the opinions of different interest groups, a charge which the government denies.
"Arguments about changing the law are mostly personal and emotional. But when they start thinking about it, they'll find the new law to be good," Marku Lamp said.
State Forestry reform started when the state discovered that the Forest Management Center did not know how the forest is actually managed. It audited a deforestation plan from 2003 to 2006 to check for sustainability. What they found was that there were no reliable statistics about Estonian State Forests.
It was discovered that the State Forest Management Center's calculation of the effects of deforestation weren't accurate, the managing of state forests was only planned in the short-term, the planning of deforestation isn't transparent and there are problems with the movement of information between different levels of governance.
The state also found that because there weren't any proper plans for managing woods, the Forest Protection and Innovation Center couldn't achieve its goals. In all seven of the districts that were audited the plans called for illegally cutting into groves whose trees were protected by law.
The dismal results of the audit led to pilot project which took place in seven districts in north-east Estonia from January to March. The State Forest Management Center homepage says that the pilot project was effective and that the new structure will be better.
The new structure calls for 100 men to be coordinated by 15 people across three regions. A total of 114 horticulturalists will work throughout the 17 new districts. The State Forest Management Center would be subdivided into three units: a forest managing, a forest budgeting and a forest marketing unit.
Changes to the Forest Law were proposed in 2006. Though the initial law needed serious revision in order to be effective, it is hoped that the new law will help cut through red tape for forest owners. Forest owners currently have to go through multiple checks to make sure even the smallest details are taken care of.
Today about 19 percent of Estonia is covered by state forests. There are currently about 2.2 million hectares of wood, up from 1.4 million hectares in 1958.