This is a chronology of the conflicts starting in August 2018. The government lead by a so-called Peasants and Greens party approves higher logging rates in the next 5 years. As some evidence suggests, it was a one man's decision - one of the prime minister Saulius Skvernelis who is responding to the wood processing (mainly furniture makers) industry's concern/lobby on rising timber prices globaly. Therefore, higher logging rates locally to supply local industries, some or many of which serve as IKEA suppliers. Also due to high dependence on Russian gas for heating purposes, the last few years has seen a significant switch towards central heating sector diversified with more biofuel. Therefore, even more demand for wood.
Minister of Environment was not present at the cabinet meeting when this was decided. He was on vacation. He has been one of the best, if not the best Minister of Environment Lithuania has had since independence. He is between two fires - prime minister's push to deliver more wood from state forests and civil society protests on the other hand. . It is a tough job always to be a good Minister of Environment. You are very likely to loose your position quickly....
The news of increased logging rates broke in September 2018 and the public got enraged because this party was elected on a promise of a green agenda, including a promise to decrease logging rates of forests in Lithuania. They did the opposite two years into their term.
Since then there have been a few marches in the Forest of Labanoras, an orchestrated visit to the Labanoras forest by journalists, Minister of Environment and activists, protests in front of the parliament.
An activist, Andrejus G., has been raising these issues for most of his active years as a professional forester, ecologist, environmental activist and educator. State logging map would often overlap with protected areas. According to the law, if one finds a nest of a rare bird in certain forest area, one should stop the logging. But in practice many cases would be like that: "let's log this forest with marine eagle's nest as soon as nobody noticed there is a nest". Not everyone in the state forest sector was like that. Many in the position of some influence tried to correct the logging plans and negotiate to avoid touching ecologically sensitive areas. There were good people in state forestry sector who steered with all their energy the logging activities away from old growth forests and there were those who did not care.
The ideas and outcries of Andrejus G. finally started to resonate in Lithuania after so many years of his activism. Perhaps we should appeal to Ronald Inglehart's hypothesis; a wealthier society starts to appreciate other things besides stuffing their stomachs and getting well dressed. There is a noticeable change in societal lifestyle towards more outdoor activities, rural tourism, getting to acquainted with protected areas of Lithuania and cultural heritage. This is not meant to decry the theory of an "environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous" (that applied to Chico Mendes in Brazil; the Chipko and Appiko movements in India, and so many others). But in the Lithuanian forest conservation movement, more prosperity has reinforced it. The present situation will provide an acid test for this hypothesis.
The second reason for the mass movement for forest conservation (against the Prime Minister's intention) has been a documentary that is also a success beyond Lithuania - now being screened in international festivals and getting awards. See here: http://www.sengire.lt/en . It was a hit in cinemas in Lithuania and I think for many people it was mind blowing to learn the beauty of ancient forests - those counting over 100 and more years. Unfortunately, old growth forests account for maybe 1-2% of Lithuanian forests today.
The problem that the protesters raise is that state forests belong to all citizents, therefore, citizens should be consulted about their use. Protected areas should be protected and not like now - logging plans overlapping with Natura 2000 (this is going on for many many years....). Another issue raised - clear cuts as the main method of logging being unacceptable socially and ecologically, especially in protected areas.
The website of the campaign is here: http://www.gyvasmiskas.lt/ All info in Lithuanian, English translation easily available (google).
In October 2018 Ministry of Environment arranged a round table responding to the protests and Andrejus Gaidamavicius was part of it. It started promising - all logging activities were suspended until a resolution as the minister ordered. I think, the minister was punished very harshly for this moratorium, because industry and energy sector could not afford to wait long. The round table started promising, but in the end failed. No constructive solution, consensus achieved. Andrejus G. has all of this written up on his fb page. Protests are likely to continue into the next year 2019 - probably there will be one protest every month or so also around further legislative/ government decisions on forestry sector.
One tiny detail. One of the first tasks this government did when it came into power in 2016 was to reform the state forestry sector. If before there were many regional state forestry companies (40 or so), the government centralized them all into one state company. Now with all power centralized, management from top to down became a lot easier. There were strong pro-reform arguments, because the sector was very corrupt (lots of forest products sold and never reported in balance sheets making these local "kings" - state forestry firm heads rich as if they were the owners of the forest). But the reform also opened doors for such One-Man Decision (the Prime Minister) to trickle down on ecosystems without any safeguards. Also monopolized power. Sectors directly dealing with the products of state forestsry - raw wood - no longer have to go and negotiate price and quantity with 40 different small state companies, but instead deal with one. That includes furniture companies and energy (biofuel) sector. And IKEA indirectly.
The European Commission noticed the protests and actually commented that the governments actions were and continue to be illegal. Large scale activities in protected areas such as intensive logging should have gone through impact assessment procedures, and that was never the case. Impact assessments should have been negative and should have rejected the plans, but that mechanism never worked. Information is lacking so far on whether the government followed up or if there were any punitive measures applied from the EU side.
All in all - this is a case of illegal activities made to look legal. A chaos in state strategic planning - planning for intensive forestry in the same area of high value ecosystems. (N.M.) .