Earlier this year, one million ha of state forests managed by RMK, the Estonian State Forest Management Centre, gained Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification awarded by independent third party certifier SmartWood – making it the largest FSC-certified area in eastern Europe.

“The FSC certification process in the Baltic region is probably one of the fastest moving in the world at the moment,” said Kristjan Tonisson, executive director of NEPCon Estonia, and SmartWood’s Certification Partner.

“No-one took FSC seriously at first, but now there is a snowball effect with companies realising that this is a business opportunity. At least 10 companies will probably receive FSC chain of custody certification this year with many more to come.”

Interest from companies in Estonia was triggered through the certification of RMK which manages 38% of the country’s forests. RMK director-general Andreas Onemar said: “Our national and international clients have an expectation that Estonian forests are managed sustainably and we must satisfy them.”

Western markets

The promise of gains on western markets shows results. More than 40% of sawnwood exports from Estonia and Latvia go to the UK. Other countries that play an important role in Estonia’s exports are Germany, Sweden, Finland and northern Africa. Mr Onemar said: “In many of these countries FSC certification is a prerequisite for timber trade.”

The increase in certified timbers from Estonia has been well received by importers such as the UK’s Grange Fencing Ltd.

Managing director Duncan Hill said: “This is excellent news. In anticipation of the certification of Estonian state forests, our Baltic certification arm Forest 2000 SIA, helped our largest Estonian supplier achieve chain of custody certification at the end of 2001. He can now certify to FSC standards the majority of his output. As a result, we are looking at ways in which we can increase the volume of business we can do with him. This news also encourages us to look for new suppliers in Estonia.”

Grange Fencing is a member of the WWF 95+ Group and is committed to promoting and facilitating trade in independently, credibly certified forest products. However, certification of the Estonian state forests has not come overnight.

Stakeholder groups

It is the result of three years work and co-operation with various stakeholder groups to implement an environmental management system that meets the standards set by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the Estonian Forest Certification working group, the independent third party certifier SmartWood, and FSC. The assessment was undertaken in co-operation with the Bureau Veritas Quality International and SmartWood.

FSC has been a catalyst for improving forest management by winning the support of all Baltic governments.

“We believe that FSC is credible and transparent and that its principles and criteria are supporting good forest management. We understand good forest management in the same way,” said Sigita Pivina, the manager of LVM’s forest certification project.

Lithuanian state forests have also committed to certification. Two forest management units with a total of 66,141ha were certified in 2001. Another 10 of the 42 forest management enterprises managing Lithuanian state forests are currently seeking an independent certifier to begin FSC certification.

Striking example

The Estonian situation is a striking example of how a gloomy prediction for the future of Estonia’s forests can turn itself around. Four years ago Estonian forests were identified by the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) as being threatened by industrial processes and political instability. Reports about illegal logging added to the pessimism. But national harvesting levels subsequently increased from 4 million m3 in 1996 to 5.5 million m3 in 1997 and leapt to 11 million m3 in 2001.

By combining environmental and social criteria with a balance of economic gains, FSC certification has put a substantial part of the country’s forests, as well as the communities living with and from the forest, on the path to a better future. Demand for certified Scots pine, Norway spruce, birch and aspen has been strong and is expected to continue to rise.

However, it is reported that some of the problems mentioned by IFF persist in private forests. It is estimated that these are harvested three times as intensively as public land. For Estonia to really look at the sustainable future of its forest resource in its entirety, private forest owners need to act. FSC group certification schemes offer private forest owners a means to follow the lead of governments in responsible forest management. Three group certification schemes of small private forest owners can soon be expected in Estland. Latvia reports that certification of private forests gained momentum in 2001 through two group schemes which, to date, include 16 forest owners.