Survey of the Forests and Forest Fire Protection
in the Republic of Estonia
(IFFN No. 18 – January 1998, p. 61-62)
Survey of the Forests
The Republic of Estonia is situated on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, surrounded in the north by the Finnish Gulf. The area of the mainland part of Estonia is 4.24 million hectares. The total area of woodlands is 2.011 million hectares equalling a forest cover of about 48%. Roughly a half of the forest land is in public ownership, and the remaining half belong more than 11,000 private woodlot owners.
About 30% of state-owned forests are preservation and protection forests. The dominant tree species are pine (38%), birch (30%) and spruce (24%). For each citizen of Estonia there are nearly 1.3 hectares of forest. The volume of wood in Estonian forests is today over 284.5 million cubic metres, 169 million of which are in state-owned forests. Increment obviously varies with site class and tree species, but the average for the country is 4,98 m3/ha. This represents a total increment in Estonia of over 9.2 million m3 every year. The age groups of the Estonian forests are: young growth 32%, middle-aged stands 52%, maturing stands 10%, mature and overripe stands 6%.
The state supervision and control over the management of forests is carried out by the Estonian Forest Board, subordinated to the Minister of Environment.
Managing Forest Fire Protection
In Estonia forest fires constitute an inseparable part of the development of forests. On the average about 215 forest fires affecting an area of 210 ha take place in Estonia every year. Fire occurrence depends on climate variability and human activity (Fig.1).
Fig. 1. Forest fire statistics for Estonia for the period1949-1996
About 98% of the forest fires in our country are caused by human negligence. Only 1-3 fires are caused by lightning. Most of the fires take place in forests situated near urban areas, predominantly near Tallinn and Kohtla-Järve. Almost half of the forest fires which take place in Estonia every year, occur in the forests of Harjumaa region surrounding Tallinn (Fig.2). The majority of human-made forest fires are caused by negligent smokers and people making campfires. Many fires begin at the roadside.
Fig. 2. Average annual number of forest fires in Estonia, by counties
At present, the structure of the forest fire control system is being reorganized. During the Soviet period 200 state forest districts were responsible for the detection and suppression of forest fires, and for this purpose they used such equipment as fire-engines (50 machines), motor pumps for fire fighting, portable sprayers etc. Now, however, this function is taken over by salvage teams. The number of forest districts has shrunk to 109 and their functions shall include prevention of forest fires, discovering already blazing fires, and giving assistance to the salvage teams. In the future, the state forest districts shall focus on fire protection in the state forests.
In Estonia the majority of forest fires are discovered relatively quickly and that is the reason why 95% of forest fires take place on an area smaller than 1 ha. Very large forest fires (on an area over 50 ha) occur, on the average, once in every five years. The largest fires in the recent years have taken place at Vihterpalu in 1992 and 1997. In both cases the fire damaged an area of approximately 800 hectares. These fires were extinguished with the help of fire brigades coming from all regions of Estonia as well as the armed forces. It has never been necessary to request any assistance from other countries.
From: Andres Talijärv
Director General Address:
Metsaamet – National Forestry Board
EE – 0010 Tallinn