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Commission's EU Forest Strategy puts forest owners’ commitment at stake

Despite some improvements, the text in the European Commission's new EU Forest Strategy for 2030 does not succeed in re-balancing the previous versions of the text that have already caused controversy. The strategy puts European forest owners’ commitment at stake, as it does not strike a balance between the various functions of forests, between risks and opportunities, and lacks comprehensive concrete actions to support the forest sector say CEPF, ELO, and Copa-Cogeca in a joint statement.

Despite some improvements, the text in the European Commission’s new EU Forest Strategy for 2030 does not succeed in re-balancing the previous versions of the text that have already caused controversy. The strategy puts European forest owners’ commitment at stake, as it does not strike a balance between the various functions of forests, between risks and opportunities, and lacks comprehensive concrete actions to support the forest sector say CEPF, ELO, and Copa-Cogeca in a joint statement.

The European Commission presented its new EU Forest Strategy for 2030 on July 16, 2021. Responding to the adopted text, three forest owner stakeholder associations – the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF), Copa-Cogeca, and the European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) – say that European forest owners acknowledge the strategy’s positive statements on the role of forest owners but despite them, the Commission published today an “unbalanced strategy that hampers the multifunctionality of the EU forests and questions existing and successful sustainable forest management in the EU.”

Furthermore, forest owners’ expectation on the strategy’s role as a coordination tool regarding all forest-related EU policies has not been fulfilled. The numerous calls from forest owners, the forest sector, MEPs, and Member States have not been heard in the Commission.

The strategy is a real disappointment for European forest owners. Unfortunately, they feel that it is based more on ideology and emotions than their everyday reality. Forest owners’ endorsement and motivation are crucial for the implementation of any forest-related ideas and measures. The adopted text does not allow such endorsement. Forest owners see their role in reaching the Green Deal targets and want to work together towards the goal, but they need a holistic political framework that supports their work, said Fanny-Pomme Langue, CEPF Secretary General on behalf of the stakeholder group.

Most of the EU forests are privately owned. Therefore, this strategy and its objectives can only be implemented with a real acknowledgment and respect of those that have been their caretakers for generations and of their ownership rights.

Forest owners are choosing the most appropriate forest management option for their land within the limits already set by national legislation and sustainable forward-looking principles.

As expressed by several forest owners in the “Welcome to my forest” campaign, climate change is the greatest challenge that forests and forest owners face and the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty.

What forest owners need is political, societal, and economic support for their work and efforts, not a strategy that creates even more uncertainty.

A clear example that illustrates the gap between the strategy and the needs of forest owners is the fact that there is no specific chapter on climate change adaptation and mitigation nor on financing beyond environmental services. In addition, the actions proposed are mainly focused on one aspect of sustainability: the environmental one.

To the diversity of EU forests and their history, management, and ownership, and to the main challenge that climate change, the strategy answers with a rather prescriptive and one-size-fits-all approach.

Calls for an additional closer-to-nature certification scheme, advertisement of Natura 2000 logo for non-wood products, recommendations to avoid specific practices, narrow approach on bioeconomy: none of these are answering to the demands of the sector the signatories say.

On the contrary, they may put at risk sustainable management of forests, undermine the manifold services for the environment and society, and forests’ contribution to mitigating climate change with more regulatory burden and fewer sources of income from forest management.

Furthermore, through opening the door to new EU forest management indicators and thresholds, the strategy is putting at stake the pan-European Forest Europe process which the EU is part of.

Linked to this, the new legislative proposal for EU Forest Observation, Reporting and Data Collection, announced in the strategy and the strategic plans, is not only challenging Member States’ competence on forestry but also raises a lot of questions from forest owners regarding the ultimate political objective and implementation of such initiative.

Finally, the signatories look forward to reading the reactions from the Council and the European Parliament to the new strategy, whose positions have unfortunately not been considered. European Forest Owners are strongly committed to playing their role in reaching the European Green Deal targets provided that the appropriate political framework is in place.

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