If all forests in Latvia are cut down, the forest area will not change or even will increase – what is happening to our forests?

Monta Heidemane, Latvia, 17 years old

Forest clear-cut in the South Kurzeme Municipality. Photo: Monta Heidemane

Latvia can be proud of its forests which cover more than 50% of the country’s territory, Latvian forests are doing excellent, they are managed sustainably – such and various other statements can often be heard in the public space. Are forests doing so bright or are these just superficially embellished statements?

Forest, its functions and ecosystem services

The forest is not just trees, but a very important natural system. Forest consists of several layers, various structures and structural elements. Important is the variety of structures, and forest non-transformation into tree plantations.

Viesturs Ķerus, Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Ornithological Society, ornithologist, indicates: “It is very important that in the forests are dead wood, trees are of different ages, sizes and different species.”

Dead trees – snags, logs – create nutrients when decompose, serve as a home, hiding place for countless organisms, and are an oasis of forest life [1]. In the dead tree is more life than in a living tree.

First of all, the forest is home to the rich biodiversity of living beings – provides home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity [2]. Every living being has its own unique and irreplaceable role.

People also get various benefits from the forest – ecosystem services. Often people’s first association is the gain of wood and money, but the forest is much more. The forest stores carbon, produces, cleans the air, filters water, controls floods and erosion, maintains biological diversity, provides food, also promotes physical and mental health [3].

The main role in forest plays natural processes, human management and intervention are not needed, but all over the world people manage and transform forests more intensively. Humans negatively impact forests by fragmenting, draining them, limiting natural disturbances, logging, regulating watercourses, destroying habitats, biodiversity. Forest management often works against the interests of the habitat.

The scene of the world’s forests and the most bright examples

When hearing about deforestation, Amazon rain forests come to mind, which Europe often points out as a bad example, but European forests are not doing well either – it is important to look not only at the forest area and wood amount but also at the aspect of biodiversity and the age of the forests. Already 18% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed, another 17% has been degraded [4]. A bright example of the negative impact of intensive forestry on biological diversity is the situation in Sweden in the 1980s, when the middle spotted woodpecker became extinct, and the white-backed woodpecker population also came close to it, because humans destroyed their homes – suitable forests [5].

The condition of forests in each country and territory is different, but one thing is clear – forests are not doing excellent, biodiversity is decreasing in a large part of cases. European Union’s Birds Directive indicates that at least 32% of European bird species are not in good conservation status [6].

How are Latvian forests doing?

The volume of logging in Latvia has grown significantly over the last decades – from 5 million m3 in the 80s of the last century to 12 million m3 in the last decade until 2020 [7].

Aigars Dudelis, head of forestry planning at JSC “Latvia’s State Forests”, claims that “the forest area of Latvia has doubled since the 30s of the last century”.

After what has been said, approximately 50% of Latvia’s territory is covered by forests, but there is a very important nuance – according to the current Latvian forest legislation, clearings are also included in this area. So, if all the forests in Latvia were cut down to the last tree, the area of the forest would not change.

Viesturs Ķerus emphasizes: “Behind the formal increase of forest area, we see that 1-20 years young forests are increasing, but forests that are over 20 years are decreasing, at the same time, many species need exactly old and natural forests.”

How many natural forests are in Latvia?

From a nature protection point of view as natural we can consider forests that meet the criteria of specially protected habitats of European Union importance. They are made up of trees of different ages and dimensions, snags, logs and also the presence of typical species.

In order biologically valuable forests could form and preserve human activity is undesirable. Currently, only 10% of all forests are biologically valuable [8]. Protected forest habitats are still being cut down in a large part of cases.

28,2% of forests are protected, but complete forestry activities are prohibited in only 3,3%. Data, infographic: Nature Protection Board

The best-protected forests are those where the main felling is prohibited, they are only 7,13% of the total forest area [9].

Vivid examples of biodiversity loss are birds. It is forest bird species that rank in the first three places in terms of population decline.

“Especially bright and worrying example is the hazel grouse, which is a resident and lives in forests, the hazel grouse population has decreased the fastest of all the bird species whose trends can be seen in the monitoring – it has shrunk by approximately 90%,” highlights Viesturs Ķerus.

As another example, can mention the northern goshawk, which is also doing worse and the population is decreasing in the forests [10]. Various plants, fungi, lichens and other species are also shrinking.

Latvia’s forest policy continues to deplete forests

There are grounds for serious concern that the situation of Latvia’s forests will worsen, taking into account the amendments made by the Cabinet of Ministers to the “Regulations on felling trees in the forest” on June 21, 2022, which now allow the cutting of younger birch, pine and spruce forests. The amendment was justified by solving the energy crisis [11].

Viesturs Ķerus refutes this argument: “This is a false argument – these amendments to the regulations have been pushed with various official arguments since 2017. The desire is to cut down forests that are currently uncut and amendments will not solve the crisis. Moreover, the amount of energy wood produced in Latvia was already higher than we need.”

Sustainable forestry – the balance between environmental and economic interests

Dead, downed tree – log. Photo: Monta Heidemane

It is necessary to protect and preserve biologically valuable forests more strictly, but it is not enough just with protected areas, any other forest must also be managed sustainably. Sustainable forest management is based on the principles of sustainability, the balance between three pillars: environmental, economic and social. In practice, sustainable forestry includes more nature-friendly methods, that is, imitation of natural processes, diverse structure, dead wood, biodiversity, habitat preserving and promotion, selective cutting. In many parts of the world, sustainable forestry is more developed and widespread than in Latvia, but Latvia also has good examples.

“I work with selective cutting, financially, I think I would be a quite big loser if I had cut down the trees in a clearcut. Why do I have to cut down the entire forest, if part of trees can continue to grow, I also don’t want drastic changes in my land,” admits and comments Raimonds Mežaks, forester, owner of the forestry demonstration area “Pūpoli”.

The World Wide Fund for Nature Latvia has created several demonstration areas of forest management, where management is more nature-friendly and teaches others to do the same [12].

Viesturs Ķerus emphasizes: “Forests must be managed smarted. It is possible to get even the same amount of wood by management with selective cutting, seasonal working. We sell our trees relatively cheaply, if we were to produce smarter, we could also earn more with a smaller volume of wood, this can help us not cut down forests so intensively and preserve the diversity of nature.”

Sustainable forestry has great potential – it can work successfully. There are not many options if we want to preserve forests, forest landscape and biodiversity, we have to change the current intensive forest management.


[1] World Wide Fund for Nature Latvia video footage about dead wood in the forest:




[5] The documentary film of the Latvian Ornithological Society “Home in the forest”, 2022

[6] European Union’s Birds Directive:

[7] Data: Saliņš 1999, State Forest Service; graphic can be found here:

[8] Data: Nature Protection Board, Nature census

[9] Data: The 2021 public report of the State Forest Service; report can be found here:

[10] The final report of the Latvian Ornithological Society’s national monitoring of day birds for the year 2022; the book “Atlases of nesting birds of Latvia 1980-2017. The number, distribution and changes of birds.”

[11] Article on the amendments accepted by the Cabinet of Ministers to the “Regulations on felling trees in the forest”:

[12] Information about World Wide Fund for Nature Latvia forest management demonstration areas:

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