An NGO takes the Estonian government to court over logging in protected areas

NGO Save Estonia’s Forests on 28 June took the Estonian Environmental Board, a government agency, to court to stop it from issuing new logging permits in state forests within the country’s Natura 2000 sites that are a haven to Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats; the case is a continuation of an ongoing battle over logging in protected areas.

Considered the EU’s premiere conservation areas, the Natura 2000 network is intended to protect Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats to ensure their long-term survival.

The Estonian government has violated the EU legislation

NGO Save Estonia’s Forests said in a statement that the EU legislation requires an impact assessment to be performed for any activities that are not necessary for Natura 2000 site management and that are likely to impact its conservation objectives, even if activities are outside the border of the site itself – but the Estonian government has not conducted such an assessment. “The Estonian government has been allowing logging in Natura 2000 sites without performing impact assessments, causing irreversible damage to these important sites and contributing to the global biodiversity crisis.”

The NGO explained that, in June 2021, this behaviour triggered infringement proceedings against the Estonian state by the European Commission, and a legal case challenging specific logging permits by another NGO, Estonian Forest Aid, represented by PwC Legal. In response to the Commission’s action, the Estonian Environmental Board agreed in February 2022 to suspend the issuance of new forest notifications – or logging permits – for 28 months in specially designated rare forest habitat areas of the Natura sites.

“These forest habitats, however, cover only about 11% of the 365,697 hectares of forested land in the Estonian Natura sites. The remaining 89% of forested land within the Natura 2000 network is not of a designated habitat type but is still integral to the network. This means that, despite the Environmental Board’s announcement, the state has done nothing to limit logging in most Natura 2000 sites, all of which are vital to the integrity of the wider Natura 2000 network,” Save Estonia’s Forests said.

Estonian forest within the country’s Natura 2000 sites. Photo by Liina Steinberg.

The court case asks to prohibit new logging permits

The court case filed on 28 June by Save Estonia’s Forests asks the court to prohibit any new logging permits being issued in state-owned forests sitting within the Natura 2000 network, unless the impact assessments required by EU law have been properly performed and considered.

“It appears that the Environmental Board was not being straightforward when they claimed they would stop a big portion of logging on Natura 2000 sites. Logging has continued, and the forests are being destroyed. We want the court to compel the Environmental Board to stop logging, until full environmental assessments are performed as required by law,” Liina Steinberg, a board member of Save Estonia’s Forests, said in a statement.

Estonian forest within the country’s Natura 2000 sites. Photo by Liina Steinberg.

Save Estonia’s Forests is represented in court by attorneys from PwC Legal. As of publishing of this article, the Estonian Environmental Board has yet to comment on the matter.

Stretching over 18% of the EU’s land area and more than 8% of its marine territory, Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. It offers a haven to Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

Read also: The war on Estonian forests

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