The amendments to the tree felling regulations provide for a reduction in the permissible tree felling diameter. This means that, once the amendments are passed, it will be allowed to fell younger and thinner trees.
After attracting wide criticism a few year ago, the planned changes to the regulations were shelved. Now that they have undergone some modification, however, they are being advanced with a new force.
The new, modified, amendments mention the same tree diameter as the previously rejected ones.
The Ministry of Agriculture refers to the incentive for owners to take more active care of their forests as a benefit to be gained from the amendments. More valuable trees would be planted in the forests and forest productivity would increase by a quarter in the next 30 years. New rules for growing trees would also increase carbon capture in Latvian forests.
The main change in the regulations is the omission of the detail on pine felling near the sea shore.
“Another reason why we are coming back to it is also the modifications done to the version that was put forward at the beginning, which also included a proposal to amend regulations to pine felling in special economic zones near the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Rīga, restricting it to five kilometers,” explainedArvīds Ozols, Director of the Forest Department of the Ministry of Agriculture.
“Because it had caused such a controversy, and because it didn't seem likely that any agreement could reached on that front, it was taken out for the time being,” said the spokesman for the ministry.
These amendments to the regulations are still being heavily criticized by environmentalists, whose main objection is the potential loss of biodiversity.
The environmentalists contend that the regulation serve only to further the economic interests of the forest industry. The average tree diameter or thickness is a major factor contributing to the biodiversity of forests; a change in tree thickness would unavoidably affect the variety of flora and fauna inhabiting the ecosystem.
The Nature Conservation Agency of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development noted that it continues to oppose the amendments to tree felling regulations.
“We consider it necessary to continue these discussions on the proposed changes within working groups. This is particularly important now, since in the course of the year reports on the state of Birds and Habitats in Latvia will be prepared and published for the European Comission, and the results of these reports will have to be taken into account when advancing these regulations,” said Jēkabs Dzenis, Director of the Nature Conservation Agency.
In the meantime, the amendments are being actively advanced, with a mere five days allotted for inter-institutional coordination.
Jānis Eglīts, head of Kaspars Gerhards' (National Alliance) office of the Ministry of Agriculture, pointed out that the speed at which they are being promoted is relative, since the suggestions are still under discussions.
“At no point have we said that these issue won't be discussed again. They must be based in concrete facts, in concrete things, rather than unreasonable fears about what might come to be. We are well aware that anything might happen – you could meet a dinosaur on the street. 50/50 – you either meet it or not,” said Eglīts.
He predicted that further progress could be made in late August or early September.
The ministry is able advance the amendments to the government despite objections. The final word, then, will rest with the state.