Mozgeris, G. *, Treinys, R. and ─îinga, G. 2015. Comprehension of Conservation Costs in the Context of Wood Economy: a Case Study on Lesser Spotted Eagle Protection on Special Protection Areas. Baltic Forestry 21(1): 28-37

Modern forestry involves balancing multiple and often conflicting demands regarding the use and conservation of forest ecosystems. Protection of the Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina Brehm) and its nesting habitat in Natura 2000 sites is a good example of conservation solutions being directly connected to significant forest management restrictions. In Lithuania, the protection regime for the species in the Natura 2000 sites has been in place since 2004. However, neither the costs to the wood economy or the ecological benefits of the regime, or of alternative protection regimes, have been explored in detail. In this study, we aim to discuss a methodological framework to weigh up alternative regimes to protect the Lesser Spotted Eagle and its nesting habitat in the context of wood economy. We compared two approaches to protect the species and its habitat in three special protection areas (SPAs) designated for the Lesser Spotted Eagle. The current protection regime incorporates two types of measures: 1) for every estimated pair present in SPAs, two 3-5 ha mature forest stands are selected, along with protective zones 100 m wide around those stands. In the set-aside forest stands final felling is completely forbidden and other types of felling are restricted during the summer season. In the protective zones, all types of felling are restricted during the summer season, but permitted in other seasons; 2) For Lesser Spotted Eagle nests located outside the selected set-aside stands, final felling is restricted for a distance of 100 m around the nest throughout the year and other types of felling are also restricted during summer season. The Foundation for the Development of Nature Protection Projects has developed an alternative protection regime for this species in the SPAs. It is proposed to protect the mapped Lesser Spotted Eagle nest sites by: 1) restricting final felling within a 150 m throughout the year and 2) restricting all types of felling within 300 m during the summer season. Forest land and growing stock characteristics were made available for the case study area. Protection costs in terms of wood economy were associated with the average annual income decrease due to felling restrictions. We modelled the volume of growing stock at mature age and estimated the timber capital costs if no final felling is permitted. In the three SPAs, areas with strict forest use limitations according to the current protection regime covered 7.7% of the total area. During an intensive field inventory between 2011 and 2013, 48 nest sites occupied by the Lesser Spotted Eagle were identified, but only five nests were located in set-aside protected stands. The alternative protection regime involved shifting forests with forestry restrictions to relatively younger stands with a lesser area then subject to restrictions on final felling. The costs of the alternative protection regime were 44% lower per the protected Lesser Spotted Eagle pair than in the current regime. In this study, we demonstrated that both economic and ecological objectives would be better met if the Lesser Spotted Eagle protection regime were based on the actual distribution of breeding pairs in the SPAs. Also, we stress the need to involve a scheme of species distribution updates for any protective regime. Finally, we showed some implications that could be important for minimizing the costs and increasing the benefits for the conservation in practise of any forest-dwelling site-tenacious species and its habitat.

Key words: alternative protection regime, birds of prey, forestry