The Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF) joined the Environmental Paper Network (EPN) in 2017 when its community was confronted by a proposal for a major new pulp mill in Tartu. ELF is a non-governmental organization that was founded 1991 and whose mission is to preserve endangered species and their habitats, natural landscapes and natural associations typical of Estonia. EPN reached out to ELF’s Executive Committee Member, and Volunteer Coordinator, Siim Kuresso.
EPN: How would you describe the work of the Estonian Fund for Nature?
Siim: Historically ELF was focusing its works on nature conservation, with special attention to forests and wetland conservation. Recently we expanded our scope to policy, integrity and transparency issues and we are also active to raise awareness to a broader public audience for environmental protection.
Is forest protection an important topic in the Estonian political debate?
Yes, especially in recent times forest was a high ranking topic on the public agenda. We even have an ongoing conflict how to use our forests. The Estonian Government wanted to downgrade the minimum cutting age for specific tree species like spruce. In order to compensate this, ELF and others asked for strictly protected areas dominated by the same type of trees. But the government did not deliver anything meaningful and a lot of people started to get the feeling that Estonian forest management was already terribly out of hand. Intellectuals like writers joined the debate, groups like Estonian Forest Aid were established and forests are still a weekly topic in the Estonian newspapers.
What do you do related to paper?
There are plans to establish a huge pulp mill near Tartu, the second biggest city in Estonia, which is a serious threat for our forests. This was the concrete reason to join EPN recently. I also believe that EPN’s paper vision is a good description on how the paper industry should transform itself.
And how is the discussion about (paper) consumption in general?
According to my observation the Estonian society is yet not so much global oriented. But this might change rapidly due to projects like this Est-For Pulp Mill in Tartu and topics like consumption will become more important in the future. That’s for sure.
How does ELF raise its budget?
We receive the largest portion of our money for our direct conservation projects, like managing or inventorying specific habitats. We have “LIFE” projects, for example, funded by the European Union and we recently started to put more effort in fundraising with focus on private donors to support for our advocacy work.
Finally, what would you say has been ELF’s biggest success?
This was clearly back in the early nineties, where we were just established. The situation in Estonia was rather fragile but on the other hand there were opportunities. In this time ELF managed to initiate the establishment of two big national parks and many other protected areas.