Ventspils sells forest with protected habitats for felling

Ventspils Municipality Council decided not long before the new year to sell a forest in Pope civil parish Dumbrāji for felling despite the fact that specially protected species are located here, as well as habitats of European Union importance, reports the Latvian Television broadcast De Facto on March 3.

The forest felling area put up for sale in Dumbrāji of Pope civil parish is 40 hectares. The fixed starting price is EUR 192.5 thousand. It is decided to sell the forest to balance the pressing local government budget.

The State Forest Service had already issued felling permits for the area in March 2023 – for bare felling in 12 hectares and for random felling in 27 hectares. However, back in 2020, three years before the authorization was granted, the natural database “Ozols” had recorded specially protected species and habitats of European Union importance, mostly deciduous swamp forests, but formal felling restrictions have been imposed on this particular area.

Chairman of Ventspils municipality Council Aivars Mucenieks said: "If, for me, the relevant specialists - on January 19, the State Forest Service said that there are no registered environmental protection features and protected habitats that restrict economic activity - what do I believe?"

After announcing the auction, the City Council received a call from the Nature Conservation Agency to comply with the Habitats Protection Law and not to fell trees there. The administration wants all natural values to be identified on the site. Meanwhile, the State Forest Service said that the entry in the database “Ozols” does not give them legitimate grounds to refuse the felling permit.

The environmental non-governmental organization “Green Freedom” has contested the felling permit at the State Forest Service, but the Latvian Fund for Nature has applied for the creation of a micro-reserve.

It can take up to a year to decide to create a micro-reserve. Meanwhile, the felling permit already issued is in effect. 

According to the State Forest Service, it has established 409 micro-reserves over the past four years with a total area of 3,912 hectares. Last year, 35 micro-reserves with a total geospatial area of 1,081 ha were established.

At the same time, data from the Nature Conservation Agency show that over 9,100 hectares of forest have been felled in the last four years where natural values have been recorded during a nature survey, but there have been no formal exclusion zones.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM) has proposed that the nature database “Ozols” should be given greater importance, and at least the preservation of habitats in state and municipal properties should be guided by it.

This is strongly opposed by the state forest manager, the Latvian State Forests (LVM) company, which believes that this will create a new form of restriction of economic activity that is not regulated legally. Moreover, LVM stresses that they already voluntarily protect natural values in more than 170 thousand hectares of forest.

"What we would offer in these areas - to leave all surveyed habitats alone, to protect, while around these habitats the forest continues to be managed but with more nature-friendly methods. This is our offer," says Aigars Dudelis, head of forestry planning at LVM.

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