Forestry practices in the land of Latvia

November 5, 2012

The history of Latvia began when the area was settled after the end of the last glacial period, around 9000 BC, by ancient Baltic people. Latvia's principal river, the Daugava River, was at the head of an important mainland route from the Baltic region through Russia into southern Europe and the Middle East, and was used by the Vikings and later Nordic and German traders.

By Michal Brink / Forestry Solutions / /

latvian foresters

Latvian foresters pose by a pile of birch logs.

partial cuts
Partial cuts with seed trees remaining after harvesting.


Due to its strategic location and prosperous city, Latvia was a focal point for conflict and conquest by European powers. A rising sense of Latvian nationalism from the 1850s bore fruit in 1920 when Latvia finally won sovereign independence. However, this was shortlived as in 1940 it was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, then retaken by the Soviets in 1944. Latvia continued to strive for freedom from foreign domination and in September 1991, it was once again recognised by Russia as an independent state.

To the Latvians, a forest is much more than a collection of trees providing them with lumber. It is a dynamic system that lives and breathes and is intimately bound up with their history, providing the ancient Baltic tribes with shelter, hunting grounds and firewood since the end of the ice age. Over millennia, Latvians have enjoyed unrestricted access to the forest area, and this continues today. All citizens believe the forests are there to enter and use for activities such as hiking and berry collecting during the fruiting season.

Currently, forests cover almost three million hectares, or 42% of Latvia's total land area (as opposed to 7% in the United Kingdom). The temperate forests of Latvia are dominated by typical species occurring in this forest biome – pine, birch, spruce, aspen and oak. Since the climate in the Baltic states is temperate (owing to the influence from the Baltic sea), the trees grow much slower in Latvia than in Western Europe. The mean annual increment is 6.3 m3/ha, translating to a total annual increment of 16.5 million m3 per year. As a result, trees are of better commercial quality than those growing in Western Europe. 10% of Latvian forests are protected for conservation.

The dramatic political, social and economic changes in central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s resulted in the transformation of forest ownership patterns. Today, legislation requires that land areas under private ownership prior to June 1940 are to be returned to their former owners or their inheritors. This land reform is being implemented in two stages: the first stage transfers land use rights to present land users or former land owners; the second acknowledges the rights of former land owners.

This process could see 1.3 million ha of forests (44% of total forest area) privatised. During the land reform process, 258 000 applications for restitution and privatisation were submitted, covering 0.7 million ha of forest land (26% of total forest land in Latvia). In 1983, state forests covered 1,7 million ha. This was reduced by 100 000 ha over the next 10 years, while cooperative farms reduced from 900 000 ha to 300 000 ha, and community forests increased from 120 000 ha to 320 000 ha over the same period. Today, only half the forests are state-owned.

The wood industry is one of the fastest developing sectors of the Latvian economy, and has shown good recovery from the effect of the global financial crisis. A large portion of the products are exported. Major exports are round wood, sawn timber and panel products. The main importers are the UK and Sweden.

The country has not neglected its local opportunities and has a successful local wood products industry. Local companies manufacture products ranging from doors to high grade furniture, from handcrafted chess boards to unique wooden clocks, and from charcoal to plywood.

Forests are expected to play an important role in the nation's future, as new markets are emerging in the country for biomass energy projects.

rutting mitig
Rutting mitigation with the use of lumber off-cuts.
discussing latvian local
Discussing harvest plans in a hunters' shelter. Local Latvian community menber collecting berries.


Published in August 2012


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