Sustainability - the key to success for Scandinavian forestry
A long-standing forestry tradition
Sustainability and long-term thinking have been key concepts in Scandinavian forestry long before sustainability became a buzz word for environmentalists and politicians around the world. Scandinavian foresters have been working towards sustainable forestry for more than 100 years, although, if we are to be strictly honest, for many years the focus was on trees and timber production. On the other hand, it is true that both ecological and social considerations mostly have been part of the picture.
From shortage to surplus
Up to the end of the last century forests were regarded as an inexhaustible resource. Trees were felled freely and without any real form of restraint, to provide raw materials for sawn timber, paper pulp, fuelwood, tar etc. Little thought was given to reforestation, natural regeneration being relied on instead. In addition, large areas of forest land were claimed for farming and grazing. The upshot of all this was that the whole of Scandinavia faced a manifest shortage of trees and timber and, in time, prudent foresters and politicians realised that effective controls were called for.
About 100 years ago Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark introduced forestry legislation that limited the amount of timber that could be harvested, and imposed an obligation on woodlot owners to carry out regeneration after felling. Since then, the forest resources in these countries have doubled. In Iceland, on the other hand, reforestation has not advanced as far as in the other Scandinavian countries, owing to its harsher climate and the importance of sheep farming there. However, recent restrictions on grazing have resulted in a promising move towards re-establishment of the forest land.
Nature reserves complemented by general conservation
The Scandinavian forests do not contain a wealth of species. The reason for this is the northerly location, plus the fact that after the glacial period, the sea forced most of the species to migrate Scandinavia, except for Denmark, from east and north. The devastation of the forests in the 19th century, followed by the intensive forestry practised during the present century have both had an adverse effect on the diversity of species.
When the subject of biodiversity was raised as an issue some ten years ago, it was clear that the area of virgin forest in Scandinavia was very small. This meant that creating nature reserves could only make a marginal contribution to the preservation of species. Instead, we adopted a strategy of integrating into operational forestry both conservation and safeguarding of biodiversity in the forests. Scandinavian forestry people are convinced that efficient, profitable forestry can also be sustainable. By this we mean a forestry policy that in the long term can meet all the economic, ecological and social demands, not just under the conditions existing today but also in the air-pollution and climatic conditions of the future.
Laws, education and certification
Various statutes govern forestry practice in Scandinavia, the most important ones being the forestry acts. These acts have recently been up for revision in several of the countries, and the changes all point in the same direction. In contrast to the past, when the laws tended to focus on safeguarding a high production of timber, equal weight today is being given to ecological considerations.
The law now gives great responsibility to the woodlot owner. Authorities and organisations are therefore supporting by comprehensive information, education and training. There have been several successful training and information programmes in Scandinavia, which have reached more than 100,000 woodlot owners and other foresters.
The forest authorities are also recording key habitats, which are sites inhabited, or likely to be inhabited, by endangered species. Woodlot owners are urged to take special care of these sites. Nation-wide forest surveys are carried out to monitor general observance of the provisions of the Forestry Act.
Another important consideration is the pressure exerted by customers and consumers, who are demanding eco-friendly production methods. The forestry sector is well aware that caring for the environment has very much become an economic issue now. Indeed, nowadays, suppliers will have trouble selling their products if they cannot demonstrate that the wood comes from sustainable forestry. But, given the wide gap between the forest and the end user, how can the suppliers demonstrate their commitment to the environment in a way that the consumer can rely on? The answer to this is certification.
A host of forest enterprises are involved with the Eco Management & Audit Scheme (EMAS) and ISO 14001. The Scandinavian countries are also working on certification systems, that are on the same lines as the principles laid down by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Involved in the work are representatives from forestry, authorities, environmental and employees' organisations. In Finland all forest owner groups have agreed upon a national standard based on group certification, but so far not connected to FSC. Sweden has worked out the first national standard that has been approved by FSC. The private woodlot owners have however not acceded to this standard as they feel that it would give a too big encroachment to their ownership. In Norway there is a consensus on a national standard for sustainable forest management, but so far it is not decided if it will be sent to FSC for approval.
Additional information at European Forest Institute
New forms of forest management
Because of the concentration on commercial production in Scandinavian forestry, there is a scarcity of old trees, hardwoods, deadwood and fire-ravaged woodland compared to virgin forests. Consequently species dependent on these habitats for their survival are now endangered. Forest management must therefore focus on increasing the prevalence of suitable habitats.
One consequence of this awareness is that clear-cutting has almost entirely been abandoned today. Instead, both individual trees and groups of trees (hardwoods, whenever possible) that are judged to be windfirm are retained in final felling and left to grow as part of the new stand. If there is a high risk of windthrow, tall stubs of trees are retained instead. The harvester cuts the stems at a height of 7-8 m, and the stubs are left as a welcome habitat for the wood-dwelling species.
Where suitable conditions exist, natural regeneration under shelterwood is becoming increasingly widespread. Here, too, a number of old trees are retained in final cutting of the shelterwood. It is also customary these days to leave wetland areas and rocky outcrops undisturbed. It is estimated that the large industrial forest enterprises now leave some 10% of the potential cut standing for ecological reasons.
In addition to the measures taken as part of everyday forestry, woodlot owners are also taking steps on a voluntary basis to safeguard the biodiversity of the woodlands. Areas of special interest are set aside as conservation areas or nature reserves without financial compensation from the government. These areas are often not especially large in themselves but, taken together, they constitute a significant area. Prescribed burning on cutovers and even of standing forest is carried out to provide suitable habitats for fire-dependent species.
The changes that have been made in forest management have largely been introduced on the basis of hypotheses and common sense, as comprehensive research findings from the relevant fields have not been available. However, intensive research focusing on sustainable forestry is now in progress in Scandinavia-some $26 million is annually invested in this field.
More than a third of this is directed at sustainable timber production, which includes research into soil conditions, micro-organisms in the soil, soil-plant interaction, forest-tree breeding and selection, and studies on the long-term production potential and its development over time.
Just under a third of the total research activity is concerned with alternative forestry, focusing on multiple-use forestry, alternative methods of forest management and alternative uses for forest land.
About one-sixth of the research is focusing on biodiversity and how to preserve it. This includes forest survey and evaluation, the influence/preservation of specific groups of organisms, and the preservation of biodiversity in specific habitats and biotopes.
Other research is looking at climatic influences, damage to forests and eco-friendly forest technology.