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Forestry and Peatlands Latvia

Forestry in numbers

Two zones of woodland are found on the territory of Latvia. Deciduous forests in the South, elements of boreal forests – unmixed forests of pines and fir-trees in the North. This explains the variety of tree species and the large share of mixed forests and biological variety in general (1).

Forest ecosystem is the most significant part of Latvia’s environment. The main tree species are pine, fir-tree and birch. In Latvia, the forest land comprises 2,923 thousand ha or 45% of the national territory. Since the beginning of the last century, the area of forest land in Latvia has almost doubled. Historically, increase of forest land area is related both to natural overgrowing of land no longer used in agriculture, and purposeful afforestation of such land. It is anticipated that forests will cover 50–55% of the territory of Latvia in near future, provided by afforestation of land no longer used in agriculture and for other purposes (1).

Fuelwood is used mainly in the form of logs, woodchips and wood processing waste. The biggest consumers are households (39%), heat generating companies (25%), industry (mainly wood processing companies) and other consumers. Sawn timber production in Latvia continues to grow steadily and the production volumes in 2002 have increased more than 10 times, in comparison with 1993 (1).

Annual harvest volumes for the period of 1991 – 2003 have increased from 4.4 mln m3 to 11.7 mln m3. The rapid growth rate could be explained with the inclusion of private forests in economic circulation and the development of wood processing, particularly timber sawing output. Currently, on average 65% of the total logging volumes occur in the private forests of Latvia. The amount of timber harvested in the state forests remains stable with only small changes since the regaining of independence (1).

Irrespective of the significant increase in logging volumes, the felling did not exceed 75% of growth and 2% of total growing stock during the period of Latvia’s regained independence. In the recent years, the felling volumes have stabilised and no longer demonstrates high growth rates, including in private forests. The main reason for this is the maximum allowed felling volume in the felling, which is directly regulated by law (1).

In 2004, the gross exported forestry output accounted for 35.2% of total export of Latvia (1).

Vulnerabilities - Overview

The increased vulnerability of forests (and people) with respect to climate change refers to several impacts (26,32):

  • Forest cover: conversion of forests to non-woody energy plantations; accelerated deforestation and forest degradation; increased use of wood for domestic energy.
  • Biodiversity: alteration of plant and animal distributions; loss of biodiversity; habitat invasions by non-native species; alteration of pollination systems; changes in plant dispersal and regeneration.
  • Productivity: changes in forest growth and ecosystem biomass; changes in species/site relations; changes in ecosystem nitrogen dynamics.
  • Health: increased mortality due to climate stresses; decreased health and vitality of forest ecosystems due to the cumulative impacts of multiple stressors; deteriorating health of forest-dependent peoples.
  • Soils and water: changes in the seasonality and intensity of precipitation, altering the flow regimes of streams; changes in the salinity of coastal forest ecosystems; increased probability of severe droughts; increased terrain instability and soil erosion due to increased precipitation and melting of permafrost; more/earlier snow melt resulting in changes in the timing of peak flow and volume in streams. The capacity of the forest ecosystem to purify water is an important service, obviating the cost of expensive filtration plants.
  • Carbon cycles: alteration of forest sinks and increased CO2 emissions from forested ecosystems due to changes in forest growth and productivity.
  • Tangible benefits of forests for people: changes in tree cover; changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in availability of specific forest products (timber, non-timber wood products and fuel wood, wild foods, medicines, and other non-wood forest products).
  • Intangible services provided by forests: changes in the incidence of conflicts between humans and wildlife; changes in the livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples (also a tangible benefit); changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in the cultural, religious and spiritual values associated with particular forests.


Increasing CO2 concentration can affect tree growth through increased photosynthetic rates and through improved water-use efficiency. There will be complex interactions, however: forest growth rates may well be increased in some cases by rising levels of atmospheric CO2, but rising temperatures, higher evaporation rates and lower rainfall may lower growth rates in other cases (17).

Non-timber products

Increasingly there are concerns about the productivity of non-timber products such as medicines and foods. Relatively little information is available in the scientific literature about the sustainable management of such products, and even less is known about their vulnerability to climate change (26).

Vulnerabilities – Temperate forests in Europe

Present situation

In parts of Europe with temperate forests, annual mean temperatures are below 17°C but above 6°C, and annual precipitation is at least 500 mm and there is a markedly cool winter period (6). Temperate forests are dominated by broad-leaf species with smaller amounts of evergreen broad-leaf and needle-leaf species (7). Common species include the oaks, eucalypts, acacias, beeches, pines, and birches.

Many of the major factors that influence these forests are due to human activities, including land-use and landscape fragmentation, pollution, soil nutrients and chemistry, fire suppression, alteration to herbivore populations, species loss, alien invasive species, and now climate change (8).

Forest productivity has been increasing in western Europe (9). This is thought to be from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (10), anthropogenic nitrogen deposition (11), warming temperatures (12), and associated longer growing seasons (13).


Most models predict continuing trends of modestly increasing forest productivity in Western Europe over this century (14). Projections for the time near the end of the next century generally suggest decreasing growth and a reduction in primary productivity enhancement as temperatures warm, CO2 saturation is reached for photosynthetic enhancement, and reduced summer precipitation all interact to decrease temperate zone primary productivity (15). The projected increased occurrence of pests, particularly in drought-stressed regions, also contributes to decreased long-term primary productivity in some regions of temperate forests  (16).

Sensitivity to increasing air pollution loads, particularly nitrogen deposition and tropospheric ozone, will impact large areas of the northern temperate forest over the next century. In the temperate domain, air pollution is expected to interact with climate change; while the fertilization effects from nitrogen deposition are still highly uncertain, pollutants such as ozone are known to diminish primary productivity (17).


The ranges of northern temperate forests are predicted to extend into the boreal forest range in the north and upward on mountains (18). The distribution of temperate broadleaved tree species is typically limited by low winter temperatures (19). Since the latter are projected to rise more rapidly than summer temperatures in Europe and North America, temperate broad-leaved tree species may profit and invade currently boreal areas more rapidly than other temperate species.

Carbon sinks/sources

Temperate forest regions in the highly productive forests of western Europe (20) are known to be robust carbon sinks, although increased temperature may reduce this effect through loss of carbon from soils (21). Weaker carbon sinks or even carbon losses are seen for temperate forests in areas prone to periodic drought, such as southern Europe (22).

Models suggest that the greatest climate change threat to temperate forest ecosystems is reduced summer precipitation, leading to increased frequency and severity of drought (23). This will probably be most prominent in temperate forest regions that have already been characterized as prone to drought stress, such as southern Europe. Drought-stricken forests are also more susceptible to opportunistic pests and fire (24). Together, these related effects can potentially change large areas of temperate forest ecosystems from carbon sinks to sources.


Globally, based on both satellite and ground-based data, climatic changes seemed to have a generally positive impact on forest productivity since the middle of the 20th century, when water was not limiting (33).

Timber production in Europe

Climate change will probably increase timber production and reduce prices for wood products in Europe. For 2000–2050 a change of timber production in Europe is expected of -4 to +5%. For 2050–2100 an increase is expected of +2 to +13% (25).

Wood production

In general, management has a greater influence on wood production in Europe than climate or land-use change. Forest management is influenced more strongly by actions outside the forest sector, such as trade and policies, than from within (3).

Increased wind damages, especially in northern and western Europe, may more frequently result in an imbalance in orderly harvesting procedures with increased costs and disturb timber markets with an imbalance between the supply and demand of timber (4).

Wood-processing industry

Future forest policy and the consequent management should also balance the increasing capacity of forests to sequestrate carbon and the potentials to increase the supply of  timber into the inner markets of Europe, while sustaining wood-using industries. The possible shift of tree species composition towards increasing dominance of hardwoods may affect the wood-processing techniques and this should be considered in future investments (4).

Adaptation strategies

Agriculture and forestry are the sectors of economy that are most of all vulnerable to climate change. Long-term changes in ecosystems result in change of productivity and influence the development of these sectors. Projections of climate change should result in the development of policies and strategies of adaptation measures to changes.

Targeted efforts should be made to develop new species and to improve their growing technologies. Results of forest monitoring should be also taken into consideration when planning forest plantations and afforestation. Scientists deem that, forestry should focus more on stands of foliage trees and spruce, predicting that pine growing will be prospective and economically beneficial only in poor soils. Wood industry should be also adjusted accordingly (2).

The genetic variability of most common tree species is probably large enough to accommodate the mean changes in temperature and precipitation. Problems may be encountered with the changes in the frequency and amplitude of extreme events such as drought, wind and spring and summer frost. Currently there is a tendency to prefer native tree species and a more nature-oriented approach in management. Simulation studies in northeastern Germany suggest that there is a considerable potential to improve climatic adaptation of forests by means of adaptive forest management strategies (5).

Adaptation strategies - Forest management measures in general

Near-nature forest management and a move away from monocultures toward mixed forest types, in terms of both species and age classes, are advocated. In addition, natural or imitated natural regeneration is indicated as a method of maintaining genetic diversity, and subsequently reducing vulnerability. For management against extreme disturbances, improvements in fire detection and suppression techniques are recommended, as well as methods for combating pests and diseases. It is reported that through stricter quarantine and sanitary management, the impact of insects and diseases can be minimized. The establishment of migration corridors between forest reserves may aid in the autonomous colonization and migration of species in response to climate change (30).

Adaptive management

The terms adaptation and adaptive management are often incorrectly used interchangeably. The former involves making adjustments in response to or in anticipation of climate change whereas the latter describes a management system that may be considered, in itself, to be an adaptation tactic (27). Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programmes (28). It involves recognizing uncertainty and establishing methodologies to test hypotheses concerning those uncertainties; it uses management as a tool not only to change the system but to learn about the system (29).

Both the climate and forest ecosystems are constantly changing, and managers will need to adapt their strategies as the climate evolves over the long term. An option that might be appropriate today given expected changes over the next 20 years may no longer be appropriate in 20 years’ time. This will require a continuous programme of actions, monitoring and evaluation – the adaptive management approach described above (26).

There is a widespread assumption that the forest currently at a site is adapted to the current conditions, but this ignores the extent to which the climate has changed over the past 200–300 years, and the lag effects that occur in forests. As a result, replacement of a forest by one of the same composition may no longer be a suitable strategy (26).

Adaptation to climate change has started to be incorporated into all levels of governance, from forest management to international forest policy. Often these policies are not adopted solely in response to climate, and may occur in the absence of knowledge about longer-term climate change. They often serve more than one purpose, including food and fuel provision, shelter and minimizing erosion, as well as adapting to changing climatic conditions (30).

Socio-economic and political conditions have significant influences on vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Climate change projections are perceived by many forest managers as too uncertain to support long-term and potentially costly decisions that may be difficult to reverse. Similarly, uncertainty over future policy developments may also constrain action. Finance is a further barrier to implementing adaptation actions in the forest sector (31).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Latvia.

  1. Ministry of the Environment of the Republic of Latvia (2006)
  2. Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (2001)
  3. Schröter et al. (2005)
  4. Kellomäki et al. (2000)
  5. Lindner (2000), in: Kellomäki et al. (2000)
  6. Walter (1979), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  7. Melillo et al. (1993), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  8. Reich and Frelich (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  9. Carrer and Urbinati (2006), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  10. Field et al. (2007b), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  11. Hyvönen et al. (2007); Magnani et al. (2007), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  12. Marshall et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  13. Chmielewski and Rötzer (2001); Parmesan (2006), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  14. Alcamo et al. (2007); Field et al. (2007b); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  15. Lucht et al. (2006); Scholze et al. (2006); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  16. Williams et al. (2000); Williams and Liebhold (2002); Logan and Powell (2001); Tran et al. (2007); Friedenberg et al. (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  17. Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  18. Iverson and Prasad (2001); Ohlemüller et al. (2006); Fischlin et al. (2007); Golubyatnikov and Denisenko (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  19. Perry et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  20. Liski et al. (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  21. Piao et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  22. Morales et al. (2007), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  23. Christensen et al. (2007); Fischlin et al. (2007); Meehl et al. (2007); Schneider et al. (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  24. Hanson and Weltzin (2000), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  25. Karjalainen et al. (2003); Nabuurs et al. (2002); Perez-Garcia et al. (2002); Sohngen et al. (2001), in: Osman-Elasha and Parrotta (2009)
  26. Innes (ed.) (2009)
  27. Ogden and Innes (2007), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  28. BCMOF (2006a), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  29. Holling (1978); Lee (1993, 2001), all in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  30. Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  31. Keskitalo (2008), in: Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  32. Kirilenko and Sedjo (2007)
  33. Boisvenue et al. (2006)