Measured by the alternative method, the area of Estonian forests turned out to be larger

Based on previously acquired data we know that approximately half of Estonia is covered by forest. But Forest scientists from Estonian University of Life Sciences used an alternative method to acquire data for the international Bioatlas portal about the species, growing stock and the age of forests, and discovered, that compared to the previous assessments the forest coverage is up to 90 000 ha larger.

Up to now the forest coverage has been estimated using the Statistical Forest Inventory (SMI) sample plots method, but this time it was done by remote sensing and land survey maps, which were combined with the survey data for all Estonian forest areas.

Forest covered was drawn from the basic map, from which roads, ditches, quarter lines and power line strips were subtracted, explained Allar Padari, Research Fellow at the Chair of Forestry and Forest Management. By this method the total area of ​​forests was 2.42 million hectares. According to SMI calculations it is 2.33 million hectares. The conclusion therefore is that 53,3% of Estonian land territory is covered by forests. Padari added that based on the criteria set by Estonian law, 37.8% of managed forests can be considered mature stands. A big proportion of the mature forests are fields and grassland which were abandoned in the post-war years. A quarter of a century ago the well-known forest scientist, Artur Nilson, claimed that we have a lot of middle-aged and maturing forests. Today, they are mature stands.

The age structure of forests allows for an increase in clear cutting, if needed. Over the next 10 years, the average felling capacity could be in the range of 11 to 16 million m3 per year, plus thinning volumes of approximately two million m3 per year. Therefore, the suggested total felling capacity over the next ten years could be 13–18 million m3 per year. Of course it is up to the forest owners to decide on how or when their forests are cut.

Allar Padari added that the results correlate well with the SMI estimates: „We can conclude that the results obtained so far with the SMI methodology are quite accurate and once again the necessity of the SMI for the assessment of Estonian forest resources has been proved.“ The assessment and calculations were made for Bioatlas, a large public database created by the Finnish Institute of Natural Resources, Luke. The team included Allar Padari, Tauri Arumäe, Mait Lang and Ahto Kangur. The research was carried out with the Estonian Research Council's applied research support measure RITA and the project “Increasing added value and efficient use of raw materials in bioeconomy and its sectors”, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. Funding by the Interreg project Baltic ForBio was also involved.