Environment minister under Green pressure

  • 2002-11-14
  • Aleksei Gunter

Heiki Kranich, Estonian minister of environment, is unable to put an end to illegal wood cutting in Lahemaa National Park and must step down, an Estonian green-group stated last week.

The group, Friends of the Earth Estonia, a private environmental organization founded in 1988, discovered that illegal wood cutting in the Luige district of Lahemaa National Park was taking place at the end of October. The group notified the Environment Inspectorate and the Ministry of Environment, demanding an end be put to the crimes against nature in one of the most beautiful national parks of the country, located about 40 kilometers northeast of Tallinn.

Although the inspectorate assured the public that the wood cutting had stopped, a raid by environmentalists on Nov. 3 uncovered that the forest exploitation continued unabated.

Environmentalists arranged a protest the following day in front of the Ministry of Environment, demanding that Kranich resign.

Kranich met with protesters, but told them that he did not plan to step down.

According to the Environment Inspectorate, several hectares of forest, or some 600 cubic meters of wood worth over 1 million kroons (62,000 euros) were cut clear in the last three weeks in the Luige area of the national park.

Clearcuts - when all the trees on a certain land plot are hacked - are banned in Estonian national parks, while felling individual mature trees is allowed, according to the Environment Inspectorate.

Ann Maripuu, communication specialist of the Environment Inspectorate, said that according to the preliminary damage assessment, the state lost 1.1 million kroons as a result of the latest illegal exploitation in Lahemaa.

"The clearcut took place on a 12-hectare area where some trees were legally cut this spring. This year alone about 1,000 cubic meters of wood were cut illegally in that area," she said.

Harju country police launched an investigation of the recent Lahemaa Park clearcuts on the basis of the documents from the Environment Inspectorate on Nov. 8.

Peep Mardiste, chair of Friends of the Earth Estonia, said that the cutting was stopped later during the week thanks to attention from the media and authorities.

Representatives of environmental organizations met Prime Minister Siim Kallas on Nov. 7, and he promised to look into the problem of illegal wood cutting and form a special commission to deal with that, according to Mardiste.

"We will wait until the commission is formed. We think it will have to interfere in the work of the Ministry of Environment to solve the problem. But until we see any major positive changes, our recommendation to Kranich to step down will remain in force," said Mardiste.