Soomaa National Park was created in Estonia in 1993 to protect large raised bogs, flood plain grasslands, paludified forests and meandering rivers. With its territory of 359 km2 Soomaa is the one of the largest raised bogland of the European Union. However the protected area is currently endangered as the Ministry of Environment allowed forest cutting within its territory on 12 November.
Keskonnamet, the environmental agency of the Estonian Ministry of Environment, issued the permission for the State Forest Agency (RMK) to log in the forests of Soomaa National Park. This agency has been strongly criticised by the National Audit Office in its 2010 report on sustainable forest management. The National Audit Office stated the followings:
“…RMK does not manage state forests in a sustainable manner and is setting at risk the opportunities of the next generations for using the state forests. Within the last ten years, RMK has performed clear cutting in a larger area of state forests than it has been done in earlier decades. In some forest types, such as fertile spruce forests, RMK has already had to reduce considerably the cutting volume as the area of mature stands has decreased as a consequence of management. Continuation of cutting in the current volume would considerably reduce the area of old forests in better forest types (forests on more fertile soils) and therefore the ecological condition of the forests would deteriorate and the revenues gained from the state forests would decrease in the future.”
The company which is heavily criticised of its sustainability will now be allowed to penetrate its operation into a protected area. The logging activity will threaten the favourable conservation status of Soomaa Natura 2000 site (code EE00080574). There were 164 hectares of forest felling inside the protected area in 2014, while 137 hectares of forest cutting is planned only in January and February of 2015.
Local people are concerned and afraid of losing the value of Soomaa National Park for short term profit. They started a campaign in order to save Soomaa for future generations. Local nature-based tour operator Aivar Ruukel said that felling is also planned Raudna floodplain forests along the river, which is a rare and valuable. “It is ridiculous compared to the revenue loss that leads to a thinning,” he said.
“We at the European Wilderness Society believe that a large scale inventory of the benefits of Soomaa National Park must be implemented quickly. While the economics of biodiversity and wilderness are not fully known within the area, the forestry activities must be put on hold.”
adds Zoltan Kun of the European Wilderness Society. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) introduced the concept of valuing protected areas beyond the direct use values. Unfortunately this concept has not penetrated yet into the practice; therefore areas such as Soomaa might be lost for future generations.
The campaign is also backed up by Estonian Fund for Nature as the largest conservation NGO of Estonia. According to them this cutting permission sets up a dangerous precedence for nationally protected areas and Natura 2000 sites of community importance.
“The inventory data of high conservation value forests of EU importance in Soomaa is inaccurate. This is also stated in Soomaa management plan. Before planning any fellings in Soomaa, new thorough inventories have to be carried trough”
says Liis Kuresoo, Forestry Expert of Estonian Fund for Nature.
“While IUCN and other international organisations are working towards establishing a green list of protected areas, Soomaa is being endangered! Extractive use shall not be allowed but Soomaa must be protected as a wilderness area for future generation”
adds Zoltan Kun.