Case has high probability of success, Court says
June 28, 2022
On June 27, NGO Save Estonia’s Forest took the Environmental Board to court to stop it from issuing new forest notifications (logging permits) in state forests within Estonian Natura 2000 sites. Just one day after receiving the case, the Court has announced it will hear it.
The case is a continuation of an ongoing battle over logging in Estonian Natura 2000 sites. Considered the EU’s premiere conservation areas, the Natura 2000 network is intended to protect Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats in order to ensure their long-term survival.
EU legislation requires an impact assessment to be performed for any activities that are not necessary for Natura 2000 site management and that are likely to impact its conservation objectives, even if activities are outside the border of the site itself. The Estonian government has been allowing logging in Natura 2000 sites without performing impact assessments, causing irreversible damage to these important sites and contributing to the global biodiversity crisis. In June 2021, this behaviour triggered infringement proceedings against the Estonian state by the European Commission, and a legal case challenging specific logging notifications by NGO Eesti Metsa Abiks, represented by PwC Legal.
In response to the Commission’s action, the Environmental Board agreed in February 2022 to suspend the issuance of new forest notifications for 28 months in specially designated rare forest habitat areas of the Natura sites. These forest habitats, however, cover only about 11% of the 365,697 hectare of forested land in the Estonian Natura sites.The remaining 89% of forested land within the Natura 2000 network is not of a designated habitat type but is still integral to the network. This means that, despite the Environmental Board’s announcement, the state has done nothing to limit logging in the vast majority of Natura 2000 sites, all of which are vital to the integrity of the wider Natura 2000 network.
The court case filed on June 27 by Save Estonia’s Forests asks the court to prohibit any new forest notifications being issued on state-owned forests sitting within the Natura 2000 network unless the impact assessments required by EU law have been properly performed and taken into account.
Liina Steinberg, a Board Member of Save Estonia’s Forests, said, “It appears that the Environmental Board was not being straightforward when they claimed they would stop a big portion of logging on Natura 2000 sites. In reality, logging has continued, and the forests are being destroyed. We want the Court to compel the Environmental Board to actually stop logging, until full environmental assessments are performed as required by law.”
Responding just one day after the case was filed, the Tallinn Administrative Court accepted the case and noted that the case has a high prospect of success. Accordingly, it has ordered the Environmental Board to respond to the request for an interim injunction by 6 July 2022 with a response on the whole case due by 15 August 2022. The Court is also involving the Republic of Estonia as a third party and involving the European Commission and the Ministry of Environment in the procedure for an opinion. Possibly signaling impatience with prior foot-dragging by the Environmental Board, the Court has required the Environmental Board to explain what measures, if any, it has taken to respond to the infringement proceedings against Estonia filed by the European Commission in June 2021.
Responding to the Court’s acceptance of the case, Liina Steinberg added, “We shouldn’t have to file in court to get the Environmental Board to fulfil its legal duty to perform environmental impact assessments, but having done so, we are relieved to see that the Court has so swiftly decided that our case fulfils all its requirements.”
Save Estonia’s Forests is represented in court by attorneys from PwC Legal, Karin Marosov and Indrek Kukk. The case received scientific and legal support from the Forest Litigation Collaborative, a joint venture of the Lifescape Project and the Partnership for Policy Integrity.