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Greening Europe

Good practice 4: Sustainable forest management for green infrastructure

Latvia’s experience with sustainable forest management

Forests are an important component of Latvia's environment, covering more than 45 percent of the country’s territory. Forestry is also the third largest sector of the Latvian national economy. Securing sustainable forest management therefore offers considerable potential benefits to the country.

Apart from its greater biodiversity benefits, sustainable forest management provides several social and economic advantages. First, sustainable forest management is aimed at long-term economic feasibility rather than short-term economic benefits. In addition, as has been shown on demonstration farms, sustainable forest management provides regular income for landowners while also maintaining the value of the property. Sales of timber and forest tourism are valuable sources of household income on these farms. Sustainable forest management provides continuous timber supplies for domestic requirements. Clear-cutting may require lower investments overall, but sustainable forest management offers a wider range of benefits.

Demonstration farms

Four demonstration farms have been established in Latvia in order to assess sustainable forest management practices. These are operated through collaboration agreements between the landowners and WWF Latvia. The farms are an initiative of the landowners themselves and are not financially supported by WWF.

The management practices on the demonstration farms are based on selective cutting and thinning. The owners manage the forest with the aim of maintaining its internal balance and ensuring that the felling volume does not exceed an annual quota. In order to assess varying practices, up to three new model plots are established per year on each farm. The variables assessed include felling intensity, tree selection, allowing dead trees to remain (for biodiversity reasons) and creating openings in the forest.

The results show, for example, that sustainable forest management creates optimal light conditions for young trees and greater resistance to high winds. Optimal felling intensity has also been established:

  • pine stands — approximately 25 percent
  • spruce stands — approximately 17 percent
  • deciduous tree stands — approximately 25 percent
  • wetland spruce and deciduous tree stands — up to 12 percent
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Lessons learned in Latvia

1. In order to provide sustainable forest management in all phases of the forest life cycle, development objectives should be integrated into other sectoral policies, such as climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation, energy and rural development.

2. While compensation schemes are successful in improving nature conservation in private forests, more sophisticated instruments to promote the wider application of sustainable forest management have yet to be applied.

3. Effective communication and cooperation between stakeholders is crucial in promoting sustainable forest management.

4. Personal experience can be a successful communication instrument between private forest owners.

5. Environmental awareness, personal values, enthusiasm and commitment to the property are important driving forces for private forest owners in applying sustainable forest management.

6. Because sustainable forest management impacts on several sectors, the involvement of a range of stakeholders is crucial.The main factors that might hamper the development of sustainable forest management on a wider scale include:

  • lack of policy support, coordination and integration into other policies at the national level;
  • the need to involve a wide range of stakeholders and the forestry sector;
  • the complexities of the management process;
  • the lower economic benefits of selective cutting in small properties; and
  • the placing of short-term economic interests above long-term goals.
© The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe