Demonstration farms in Latvia show the path to sustainable forestry
One of the biggest land reforms in Europe´s history has quietly been taking place in former communist countries — posing big challenges for people and nature. After the state gave back much of its territory to the people over the last few years, Latvia's 160,000 new forest owners are now responsible for looking after one million hectares of forests, nearly half of Latvia's total forest estate.
Most of the new forest owners however have neither a forestry background nor any natural or resource management experience. They are now faced with the challenge to learn to manage their forests. The future of Latvia's unique nature is largely in their hands and will depend on their vision — whether long-term management decisions for sustainable forestry will prevail over short-term economic gains.
Within this context WWF has created model areas to demonstrate — together with experienced Latvian forest owners — how these forests can be managed in an environmentally friendly way while providing economic benefits for the owners.
Four farms in the north of Latvia were chosen to become learning centers for private landholders as well as state forest employees.Free seminars are provided to teach those interested in good forest management about, for instance, the benefits of selective timber harvesting over clear cutting, the current widespread harvesting method in Latvia. Seminars are also held about forest regeneration techniques, long-term forest management planning, natural disturbance regimes, and FSC certification.
The demonstration farms show that what is taught in the seminars is not just theory. Forest owners can check how the theory looks in practice in four different sites — and then they can simply copy the tested approach on their own land where similar nature and management conditions prevail.
“Many forest owners come here because they are interested in the economic benefits of modern forestry,” says Janis Rozitis, WWF's Forest Specialist in Latvia. “This is why the owners of the demonstration areas often focus their seminars on the long- and short-term economic benefits of using certain forestry methods. And people are surprised how much money they can save or make by using nature-friendly techniques.”
In addition to the demonstration farms, WWF has worked with the World Bank over the last few years to assist private forest owners to achieve responsible forest management. The WWF-Worldbank Alliance has financed the development of a toolkit to set up group certification schemes. Courses have also been offered to facilitate FSC certification for small forest owners in the Baltics.
Latvia has already made huge progress in improving management of publicly owned forests by certifying their entire state forest estate according to the independent certification system FSC.
For more information:
Forest Officer, WWF-Lativa
Tel: +371 75 05 640
Communications Manager, WWF European Forest Programme
Tel: +43 676 83 488 217