Latvia could face EU censure over failure to protect black alder trees

Take note – story published 1 year and 2 months ago

The European Commission is threatening to sue Latvia in the Court of the European Union as a result of failing to protect protected black alder trees, reports the Latvian Radio program "Open files".

Back in 2019, media reported on a letter sent by the European Commission (EC) to Latvia with accusations of insufficient action in nature protection. The most important warnings of the EC were about three specially protected biotopes: floodplain grasslands, species-rich pastures and grazed meadows, and special woodlands.

The Ministry of Justice has now confirmed to Latvian Radio that an infringement procedure is ongoing. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM) said that new specially protected nature reserves are currently being created. Coordination with municipalities is underway, after which it will be coordinated with line ministries, while the new borders will be approved at a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. But that is all still in the future even though it was 2019 when, looking at Latvia's position in face of EC accusations, the government instructed VARAM to submit amendments to the law "On Specially Protected Natural Areas" for consideration by September 2021.

Black alder trail at Ķemeri national park
Black alder trail at Ķemeri national park

To avoid legal proceedings and fines, the ministry is now trying to hastily determine the status of black alder stands as a protected area by law, but at present the situation is one of limbo – the black alder stands have special status, but that status does not itself restrict forestry activities.

According to the data of the Nature Protection Board, from 2017 to 2021, due to forestry activities, mainly clear-cutting, at least 4,800 hectares of forests were lost, which were recognized as forest habitats of European Union importance.

The Biodiversity Strategy of the European Union currently requires much greater care. It is one of the so-called Green Deal initiatives. According to the strategy, 30% of national territory should be designated as protected, and 10% as specially protected natural areas.

Meanwhile, "Open files" reports on a black alder grove cut down in 2021 near the village of Stīpnieki in Olaine district. It was marked as a biotope of European importance in the database of the Nature Protection Board (DAP), but that didn't stop it being felled.

Black alder occupies only 3% of Latvian forests. Almost all black alder forests in Latvia are biotopes of European Union importance. Together with other valuable habitats, they were registered by experts in the nature census, which ended a year and a half ago.

They should be protected, but the law has not set any restrictions on them for a long time. Both private forest owners and the state-owned joint stock company "Latvijas Valsts meži" cut down these forests.

The government must now decide what protection regime to apply to each habitat. If this regime is violated, there is a threat of administrative or even criminal liability.

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