State forest landscapes through 24 years of forest policy in Latvia - management perspectives
Forest management in Latvia was at relatively low intensity during the time of Soviet rule. After 1991 Latvia regained independence, carried out land restitution and reintroduced market economy. Since that time, intensive harvesting, based on clear-cuts, has quickly expanded and transformed forest landscape. Forest ecosystems by extent and value of its products and services are extremely important to Latvian economy as a natural resource as well as the matrix of Latvian landscape. This study used tools and perspectives of landscape ecology to investigate the changes in four forest landscapes in relation to forest policy decisions and management practices in state-owned forests. Studied landscapes – Salacgrīva, Staicele, Rencēni and Naukšēni are located within the North Vidzeme Biosphere Reserve in Northern Latvia. Landscapes were analyzed using broad categorization in harvesting patterns and remaining forest stands as a landscape matrix. Study covers the period of 1988-2011, divided into six smaller four-year sub-periods, each representing different periods of forest management intensity. FRAGSTATS and ArcGIS were used to analyze the harvesting patterns and remaining forest matrix. The influence of forest edge created by clear-cuts was assessed in relation to the actual biodiversity values in WKHs. State owns and manages approximately one half of all forests in Latvia. The establishment of uniform state forest management since 2000 has resulted in steady increase of management intensity, which peaked after 2008. Evident consequences of management intensification were expressed by growing extent and density of harvesting patterns in landscape structure. Study revealed several significant problems regarding forest management in state forests. Firstly, continuous increase of management intensity has resulted in progressive fragmentation of remaining forest with clear-cuts and young stands, creating edge effects upon remaining stands, including WKHs. Secondly, the relatively large amount of forests near the cutting age suggests that harvesting intensity will continue to increase, thus fueling further fragmentation. And the impact of such management intensification of forest ecological and social functions is unclear, in contrast to scrutinized and widely discussed economic effects. A resolution to these problems is possible to achieve with the implementation of landscape ecological plan for NVBR. It has been developed already in 2007 but due to the change in management policy after economic downturn in 2008 it was rejected. Landscape-level planning of forest management on the basis of ecological networks with respect to the conservation areas in NVBR can serve as a role model for sustainable forest management in whole country.
This work has been supported by the European Social Fund within the project «Support for Doctoral Studies at University of Latvia».