Estonian forest policy
Estonian forests are of big natural and ecological value. Basis for forest policy is the understanding that the forestry sector of Estonia has a strong profitable potential of material and social benefits, and its use has to be facilitated so that other values and benefits, including environmental, would not suffer.
Estonia is a country rich in forest – over a half (51.4%) of our mainland is covered with mostly semi-natural forests. The area and reserve of our forests has increased significantly during the last half-century. In Estonia, forest grows on approximately 2.3 mln hectares, of which approximately 75%, that is, 1.7 mln hectares is manageable forest. The total growing stock of stands is 480 million m3. Most common tree species are pine, birch and spruce.
- sustainable forestry – management of forests in a way that ensures currently their biological diversity, productivity, capability for regeneration, vitality and potential and enables performing all functions also in the future, without causing harm to other ecosystems;
- efficient forest management – the economic production and use of all forest-related benefits, both in the short and long-term perspective.
The importance of forests is manifested in four aspects:
- economic – forest as a source of revenue;
- social – forest as an ensurer of employment and provider of forest vocation;
- ecological – forest as a preserver of population diversity;
- cultural – forest as a part of Estonian culture.
- The management of our forests has not been consistent due to historical reasons and that influences the state of the forests as well as the choices we have today.
- Forest land area has increased during the last 70 years about 1.5 times. Partly by natural afforestation of meadows and pastures resulting in formation of deciduous and mixed stands, but also pine and spruce have spread on former arable land.
- Historically Estonian forests are of natural structure and also managed forests may include some indicators that of "primary" or "old-growth" forests. From a conservation perspective the most valuable forest habitats and sites have been already designated to strictly protected reserves.
- The total growing stock, growing stock per hectare, as well as the annual increment have been increasing gradually.
- The age structure of forests in Estonia is uneven - approximately 27% of forests are younger than 30 years and approximately 40% of forest stands are more than 60 years old. 7% of forest stands in total are older than 100 years.
- Forest land and forestry is the key sector for GHG sequestration and is compensating for other sectors GHG emissions. LULUCF sector acts as a sink due to forest land and forestry: in 2019 the LULUCF sector (land use, land-use change and forestry) total uptake was -725.99 kt CO2 equivalent. The LULUCF sector sink is mainly affected by the proportion of mature forests, forest and cropland management practices, usage of peat soils, expanding settlements area and C sequestration in the harvested wood products (HWP).
- The role of forestry in the economy and social life is extremely important: the sectors direct, indirect and induced contribution to the GDP is around 10%. Wood and wood-based products are an important part of our trade (balance). It is one of the most important sector in terms of export; furthermore, export includes predominantly products of higher value – for example wooden houses.
- It has been estimated that about 5-6% of the occupied workforce in Estonia is directly linked to the forestry sector. This number, however, excludes different indirect effects that the sector has e.g. to transportation, nature-based tourism etc. - which means that the overall impact is even higher. Also from a regional perspective even more so, as most of these jobs are situated in rural areas.
- The State offers multiple recreational options in the forest, e.g. there are 3100 km nature trails passing through several recreational areas and next to forest cabins, camping areas, fireplaces.
- Forest policy is implemented also through 110 000 private forest owners, who need to understand long-term targets and still have enough freedom to use their property.