Community forest destruction, Estonia

Estonia’s Environmental Board was going to allow Finnish forestry giant Stora Enso to log a community forest in Märjamaa, ignoring a legally required environmental review. We supported an Estonian NGO in bringing a case against the government.

Path in Lauluvaljaku forest. Credit: Liina Steinberg

Lauluväljaku, the Singing Fields, is a forest park in the village of Märjamaa that contains a stage and festival grounds. The forest shields the village from the noise and pollution of the motorway and protects the area from winds, and the forest trails had been used for recreation for decades. Nonetheless, in 2019 the Environmental Board granted permits to Finland’s Stora Enso to log the community’s forest. We supported Tiina Georg, an Estonian law student representing the NGO Eesti Metsa Abiks (EMA), along with several residents of Märjamaa, to challenge the logging permits. The case argued the permits were unlawful because impacts of logging on a nearby Natura 2000 area had not been assessed as is required under EU law. It additionally invoked expert evidence to demonstrate the forest’s value to the local community, arguing that the logging would infringe the claimants’ right under Estonian legislation to an environment that meets health and welfare needs.

During its journey all the way to the Supreme Court, the case established important precedents for environmental protection and environmental justice in Estonia, including ruling that logging must cease during the bird breeding season. Bird populations are falling in Estonia, and it is urgent to allow breeding and rearing of chicks without disturbance from industrial logging. The court also determined that a forest notification is an administrative act which carries the same requirements as all other administrative acts, such as argumentation and inclusion, and that the government should notify interested parties when new logging permits are issued to ensure they have the opportunity to challenge them. Prior to this ruling, citizens had to check an online portal to see what permits had been issued, meaning often logging occurred before people knew it was planned. 

As far as we are aware, the claimants’ submission (and the court’s acceptance) of expert evidence demonstrating that the community forest protected the village against noise and wind was also novel. These “ecosystem services” of forests can be far more valuable than the economic profit from logging.  

The argument to revoke the felling permit was eventually dismissed by the Estonian Supreme Court, despite these positive outcomes.