Forest fellings and management
- Management rules are strict with limitations to felling areas and rotation ages, there is an obligation to leave retention and seed trees, deadwood etc. Owners have to make sure that the felling area regenerates appropriately (specific rules are set by the Forest Act).
- The felling volume has been smaller than the increase of growing stock. For example in the period 2011-2019 the average felling volume was 10,7 mln m3 and the average annual increment was 16,2 mln m3. Forest growing stock has raised gradually due to both increase in forest land area as well as its average age.
- Due to the high proportion of mature forests, sustainable management is needed to increase carbon sequestration capacity. Also, older forests are more prone to storms, diseases and fire, and their ability to sequestrate carbon is much lower than that of forests in an optimal growing stage.
- Taking into account the age structure and species composition, land use history, growth models and future projections, the timely and appropriate renewal of our managed forests is extremely important for both sustainable land use and long-term climate targets.
- Sustainable forest management practices (from planting to various silvicultural measures) that are implemented through various forest policy means (regulatory, economic, informative) are the key for ensuring viable forest management; healthy, diverse and productive forest stands and the multifunctional use of forests.
- The Estonian Environmental Board executes supervision regarding the use of natural resources. This also includes forest management operations and timber extraction. All these activities have to be in line with the national legislation and with EUTR2 legality requirements. The minimum requirement for forest management and timber harvesting is the existence of forest inventory data in the national forest register. Usually forest management plans are ordered together with the inventory data. For regeneration fellings, sanitary cuttings, commercial thinnings a harvesting notice has to be obtained from the Environmental Board indicating that planned activities are in line with all rules and regulations.
Wood consumption and wood in energy
- The decision if and how to use wood is made by the forest owner, but it is directed by the quality of the wood and by the price in the market.
- Using every part of the tree in the best possible way is a responsible forestry practice. If trees are being felled during forest management, they become roundwood products and for these there are very many different classes or assortments – sawnlogs, pulpwood, fuelwood, residues (e.g. branches). Different assortments or products have all different economic values with sawnlogs and pulpwood having much higher values compared to fuelwood or residues. Therefore it is not economically viable nor reasonable to use for example sawnlogs and pulpwood for energy production. Low quality, usually rotten or damaged (can also be larger-diameter logs), crooked and small-diameter logs are used for bioenergy (woodchips, pellets). This is a kind of roundwood and biomass, which cannot be used to produce long-lasting products such as furniture or houses.
- In addition, the health of trees and stands plays a major role in having high quality wood which is used to make high value products. Higher quality wood is used to make high value products, but lower quality wood can be used only as pulpwood or fuelwood. Pulpwood is the second lowest quality and is mainly exported with no treatment to Nordic paper mills. Fuelwood is the lowest quality there is, it allows us to fulfil our renewable energy targets and helps others as well.
- The total volume of the wood balance in 2017 was 16.9 million m3. The most important sources of timber were harvesting (73% of the total balance) and imports (20%). The largest areas of use were exports of wood and wood products (62%) and domestic use for energy (34%). Also, wood and wood products include about 30% of products used in energy production (including wood pellets). In other words, about 50% of all wood (JRC study indicates that the corresponding figure for the EU is 63%) eventually finds an energy output/use (local energy consumption + exported products).
- 40% of the wood procured from Estonian forest land was used as sawn logs, 24% as pulp & paper and 36% as energy wood/firewood. 50-60% of such energy wood is low quality deciduous firewood (the rest is coniferous). Energy wood (mainly wood chips) makes up the majority of wood procured from non-forest land.
- From the total wood balance primary stemwood used for energy (i.e. energy/firewood assortment from forest land) accounts for approximately 22%. This wood is used both for domestic consumption and exports (mainly in the form of pellets). This wood originates from harvesting from were 75% of the total wood is obtained from.
- Energy wood or firewood has the lowest quality. It normally includes wood that is rotten, crooked, small in diameter etc. To date there are no alternative use for such stemwood, however, the search for alternatives is ongoing. Also, this sort of wood is produced often during cuttings that are being done for silvicultural purposes (sanitary cuttings, thinnings).
- If, for example, the use of such wood for renewable energy were restricted or prohibited, then this may have an effect to the supply of high quality wood (to the sawmills, furniture industries), hence also the volumes of secondary biomass (wood industry residues) might decrease. However in the long run, it might influence forest land use patterns from both an economic (forest productivity is unused) and climate policy point of view (there would be more low-quality softwood (e.g. grey alder) stands).
- Biomass usage in energy is regulated by the biomass sustainability criteria of the Renewable Energy Directive (EU 2018/2001) and the waste hierarchy. Sustainable forest management involves all stages of forest growth including sustainable harvesting that is done taking into account prevention of damage to habitats of flora and fauna and especially endangered species.
- Bioenergy usage in Estonia is not planned to increase, but it continues to be the main source of renewable energy in Estonia (ca 80% in 2020) and plays an important role for flexible energy production through balancing the power system and allowing higher shares of variable renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, in the electricity grid.