The European Commission’s proposal for a forest monitoring law, which was published today, is a commendable attempt to tackle the grave challenges facing European forests - yet does not require Member States to act on the data they will be required to gather on the state of their forests.
Siim Kuresoo, European Forest campaigner at Fern, said:
"The state of Europe’s forests - and how to tackle it - has become a toxic battleground. Until now, the lack of a clear system for monitoring forests across the EU has allowed bad faith actors to hide the wretched reality of EU forests.
The Commission has grasped the gravity of the crisis in European forests, recognising that the lack of firm data has obscured debates about the terrible impacts of decades of industrial forestry. In doing so, the Commission has stood firm in the face of resistance to this law from Nordic countries and their forestry sectors.”
This proposal on a monitoring framework will set new requirements for EU Member States to monitor their forests. It offers a potentially golden opportunity to provide the crucial, detailed knowledge needed to restore and protect the EU’s forests, preserve wildlife and fight the climate emergency.
The law also proposes that Member States act on their findings by devising strategic plans for improving forests’ health. But the Commission proposes that such plans are voluntary.
“Compelling EU countries to collect more data about their forests can be a moment of real significance - but to fulfil the hopes invested in this law, Member States must make binding commitments to act on the evidence they gather,” Kuresoo added.
Future debates on this law will no doubt focus on the forest monitoring criteria. The Commission proposes important additions, such as tree age, or better tracking forest management types. Many civil society groups will push for a more detailed definition of old-growth forests.
Lina Burnelius from Protect the Forest in Sweden, said:
So far, the EU has not delivered on its promise to map all its remaining old growth, naturally regenerated and primary forests. A crucial first step towards this much needed increased protection of irreplaceable forest ecosystems is to identify and define them. Mapping of old-growth forests needs to be carried out as soon as possible. Old-growth forests cannot be replanted later, they can only be saved now.”
Improving access to data and scrutiny
Lastly, the law proposal fails to include a role for civil society or academics to provide independent and expert oversight on the monitoring. We have seen how key their input can be at the national level. Despite many countries, such as Finland and Sweden, having comprehensive monitoring systems, this has not prevented continued threats to highly biodiverse forests. Often environmental groups must recreate or even generate from scratch the information that points to continued degradation.
Augustyn Mikos from Association Workshop for All Beings in Poland:
“CSOs, scientists and other stakeholders not directly associated with state authorities often fight to get data from official sources, despite holding significant expertise. Improving access to data on forests, will allow a broad range of stakeholders with expertise on forest conservation and forest management to participate in an informed way in shaping decisions on forests. It is vital to have independent perspectives to assess Member States compliance with EU regulations.”