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STASA Janis & SARMULIS Ziedonis


The forest sector plays an important role in three major areas: the country's economy (the contribution of the forest sector to gross domestic product (GDP) stands at 16%); the environment (44.6% of the country's total surface area is covered by forests); and the social sector (forestry provides jobs for 15% of Latvia's workforce). Activities aimed at promoting sustainable forestry, drawing up national standards of forestry certification and other standards are a sign of Latvia's efforts to introduce up-to-date forestry methods.


The percentage of forest land area in Latvia is gradually increasing (see Figure 1) and, when compared to other countries, Latvia is fairly rich in this respect (see Figure 2). Latvia's forests are one of the country's most important natural resources.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Percentage of forest land in Latvia

Figure 2

Figure 2: Percentage of forest land in Latvia compared to other countries

Current total annual increment amounts to 16.5 million m3 (see Figure 3) and the permitted cutting level is 8.3 million m3 (see Figure 4).

Figure 3

Figure 3: Gross annual increment (in million m3)

Figure 4

Figure 4: Permitted cutting level (in million m3)

Latvia's overall import-export performance is negative (see Figure 5), but not in the case of importation and exportation of wood products. The forest sector provides work for 15% of Latvia's total workforce (see figure 6), and the contribution of forestry to GDP amounts to 16% (see Figure 7) and to exports 35.7% (see Figure 8).

Figure 5

Figure 5: Import-export ratio for Latvia

Figure 6

Figure 6: Distribution of labour force in Latvia

Figure 7Figure 8
Figure 7: Latvia's gross domestic productFigure 8: Latvia's exports

In the near future, almost 50% of Latvia's forests will be under private ownership. No figures yet exist for 1998, but the ownership structure in 1997 is illustrated in Figure 9. Some forest owners are members of the Forest Owners' Association, founded in 1993. In 1997, within the framework of the European Union's PHARE programme, the Technical Support for the Management of Private Forests in Latvia project was launched.

Figure 9

Figure 9: Forest ownership structure in Latvia (1997)

All forest activities in Latvia are regulated by the national Forest Law, and other related laws, instructions and recommendations. Their promotion is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture's Forest Department. The State Forest Service is responsible for strict observance of all measures indicated in the Forest Law and other regulations. A joint project with FAO on the optimization of state forest administration in Latvia has started recently.

Of the total amount of timber harvested in Latvia each year, state forests account for 54.6% and private forests 45.4% (see Figures 10 and 11). Intermediate cuttings predominate on state forests.

Figure 10

Figure 10: Forest harvesting volume in Latvia (in million m3)

Figure 11

Figure 11: Forest harvesting volume in Latvia (percentage)

In final cuttings in state forests, the narrow clearcutting method is used. The width of a clearcutting site should not exceed 100m on dry ground and 50m on wet ground. In private forests, selective cutting is common. The assortment method has become the method most widely used in logging (see Figure 12).

Figure 12

Figure 12: Harvesting methods (percentage)

Chainsaws made in Germany or Sweden are common tools for felling, delimbing and bucking. Currently, only a few harvesters are in operation due to their high costs compared to the very low costs of the labour force. Timber extraction is effected by forwarders (mostly in final cutting) produced in Finland, or by farm tractors (in thinning) produced in Belorussia.

Reforestation should be carried out in all areas after clearcutting, and the type of reforestation depends on the nature of the forest management project. Artificial reforestation rather than natural reforestation tends to be used most frequently (see Figure 13). For the tending of young stands and pre-commercial thinnings, the well-known Husqvarna or Stihl brush-cutters are used.

Figure 13

Figure 13: Reforestation (percentage)


  1. The number of insufficiently skilled lumbermen has increased, leading to a drop in quality and an increase in industrial accidents (five fatal accidents and five extremely serious accidents every year).
  2. Not all forest areas destined for tending in forest management projects are actually tended.
  3. Insufficient domestic market for small-size timber and waste wood, which is often left lying in cutting areas. The result is that the possibility of forest pests increases, posing an obstacle to soil cultivation prior to artificial forest regeneration and decreasing fire resistance.
  4. Insufficient density of forest road networks — only 6.5 m per hectare of forest land.
  5. An increase in the proportion of forest harvesting areas with low accessibility.
  6. The transformation of abandoned agricultural land into forest areas.
  7. A shortage of high quality material (seedlings, plants) for forest regeneration.
  8. The inaccessibility of some private forest areas as a result of being surrounded by land under other forms of ownership.
  9. The difficulty of reaching common agreement among different interests regarding forest management practices.


  1. In 1990, Latvia joined the ICP Forest Programme (International Cooperation Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution in Forests). An assessment of defoliation in Latvia's forests considered the situation ‘good’. Continuous observation of the situation is carried out in 379 sample sites, where it has been found that 80% of coniferous trees and 90% of deciduous trees are sound. The condition of pine crowns has improved, spruce has remained stable, and birch has slightly deteriorated, largely due to phytopathological, entomological and mechanical causes. The effect of air pollution has only been identified in some localities.

  2. To reach agreement among state, public and forest professionals on the realization of forest policy, a Forestry Consultative Council has been set up.

  3. After several years of preparation, a national Forest Policy has now been established. It is expected that three months will be necessary for designing a management programme to implement the Forest Policy.

  4. Latvia has participated in all meetings of European forest ministers, most recently in Strasbourg, Helsinki and Lisbon.

  5. Latvia has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

  6. Latvia has launched an ‘Inventory of Key Habitats’.

  7. In 1995, ‘Regulations on Forest Management and Use in Meole Territory’ were introduced, under which 10 different projects are being realized to promote sustainable forestry and biodiversity in Latvia's forests.

  8. Latvia is participating in the ‘Baltic-21’ regional programme (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden), in which seven different sectors (including forestry) are being developed. Under the programme, it is expected that sustainable forestry will be established in the Baltic Sea region up the year 2030.

  9. In 1997, a new public organization—‘Green Certificate for Latvian Forestry’—was set up.

  10. The working group on ‘National Standards for Latvian Forestry Certification’ is expected to have finished work on the ‘green certificate’ by the end of 1998.

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