Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Finnish Forests

Forest as Part of Finnish Identity

To understand Finnish forestry properly, one must understand the special relationship between the people of Finland and their forests.  Forests are needed to provide the isolation that makes summer cottages paradise for so many Finns.   Forest berries (mustikka, puolukka, juolukka) and mushrooms (kantarelle) feature prominently in much of the traditional and even modern cuisine.  The importance of the forests and rural settings is even enshrined in national landscape artwork and major political parties.

Most forests are owned by private individuals, mostly by families.
This decreases the average private forest size to 32 ha [4].  Image from [4].
Evolution of a Sustainable Resource

Finland's forests have been its primary resource since before any sort of national title applied to the country.  The forests contained “endless” forest for slash-and-burn agriculture, food to eat, firewood to cook it, and furs to stay warm in the winter.  More recently, the resources have proven valuable for other reasons - fur could be traded for luxury goods (which at one point included carrots!) as trade routes were developed, and trees could be processed into lumber and tar to help assemble navies as conflict was sparked between growing states.  The sustainability of well-managed forest resources can help sustain economies that include them, as Finland's certainly does, though global markets for the products also have an external influence.  It is interesting to look at the evolution of Finnish forestry practices to see how the country has managed its most important resource through time.

Image from [5].
Nascent Finland
During the years where Finland was developing its national identity (loosely, 1800s), there were many examples unsustainable deforestation caused “timber famines” in many European countries.  Sweden in the 18th and early 19th century (which included Finland at the time) saw countries like Denmark deplete their forest resources and therefore attempted to put themselves on a different track.  Interestingly, the culprits they identified are rather similar to those seen by modern organizations – specific technologies such as inefficient stoves and slash-and-burn farming caused problems, but poverty, ignorance and underemployment of peasants was seen as another important hurdle that had to be addressed.

The State of Modern Finnish Forest Management
Modern Finnish forestry is an excellent example of sustainable resource extraction.  Around 60 km3 of wood are harvested each year while 75 km3 grows.  This sustains the forest for its own sake and also increases the amount that can be harvested.  Much of this wood today is harvested for processing into paper, so the global decline of this product means that revenues have shrunk.  In fact, in the last hundred years the forest-product share of the total Finnish export market decreased from 80% to 20%; paper makes up three quarters of this export.

Finnish Nature as a Resource

Sustainable Yet Intensive Harvesting
Sustainable forest harvesting is very different from preserving forests in their pristine state, and Finnish forests are decidedly an example of the former rather than the later.  By the numbers, a full 3% of the total volume of wood in the forests is currently harvested each year, so it would take, on average, roughly 33 years to harvest the entire country’s stock.  Forestry has been ongoing for much longer than that, so there is little (if any) undisturbed forest in Finland.  A number of parks have been created to preserve some natural areas; these make up around 13% of land area in the country, and Finland has specially protected the largest percent of its forests (~4%) of any European country.

Parks cover 13% of Finland.  The country has the largest percent of its
land protected (~4%) of any European country [1].  Image from [3]. 

Effects of Forest Management on Forest Character
A natural forest contains many things that are suboptimal for the forest industry.  These include dead and dry branches that help fuel natural forest fires, slow-growing tree species, and forest stands containing trees of a variety of ages, species, and sizes.  Therefore, in Finland’s modern carefully-managed forests, many of these do not exist.  Forest fires are extremely uncommon because the deadwood fuel is removed and they are quickly brought under control if they do begin.  Foresters try to maintain a healthy mix of tree species but have shifted the population to favor faster-growing species.

By the Numbers

  • 76% of Finland is forest [1]
    • 13% of this is protect forest [3]
  • 2 meters is defined as taller than the tallest tree above the "timber line" [1]
  • 2,000,000,000 cubic meters of wood in Finland's forests [2]
  • 75,000,000 cubic meters (4%) grow annually, 60,000,000 (3%) cubic meters harvested [2]
  • ~20 indigenous tree species [2]
[1] State of Finland's Forests 2012: Finnish forests and forest management in a nutshell - http://www.metla.fi/metinfo/sustainability/SF-1.htm, retrieved 26 August 2013

[2] Boreal Forests of the World; Finland - Forests and Forestry - http://www.borealforest.org/world/world_finland.htm, retrieved 26 August 2013

[3] State of Finland's Forests 2012: Criterion 4 Biological diversity - http://www.metla.fi/metinfo/sustainability/c4-protected-forests.htm, retrieved 26 August 2013

[4] Essay in Finnish forestry and forest industries, by Micha Hochstrate - http://www.hochstrate.de/micha/finnland/reports/finishf.html, retrieved 26 August 2013

[5] Forests – an integrated part of Finnish life, by J. Heino and J. Karvonen - http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y9882e/y9882e02.htm, retrieved 26 August 2013

[6] Writing about the Past with Green Ink The Emergence of Finnish Environmental History, by Timo Myllyntaus - http://www.h-net.org/~environ/historiography/finland.htm, retrieved 26 August 2013

[7] Natura 2000 in the Boreal Region - http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/info/pubs/docs/biogeos/Boreal.pdf, retrieved 26 August 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Origins of Finland

Swedish we are not, Russian we do not want to be, so let us be Finns.

                                                            --Adolf Ivar Arwidsson, early 1800's

File:Adolf Ivar Arwidsson akademi.jpg
Adolf Ivar Arwidsson - a happy Finn (thanks, Wikipedia!)
As part of my path to understanding this wonderful country, I have been enrolled in several short summer courses geared for foreigners.  Apart from the language, the history has probably been the most interesting because it is so different from the history of the USA.  The quote above perfectly sums up the history and sentiment behind Finnish independence (in my mind at least), so you can stop reading now.  Or if you are curious about Finland's very interesting path to sovereignty (it is extremely different from the US), read on...

First, the most important thing to understand is that the "Finns" are a people whose roots go back a long time.  References to a "Fenni" people in Scandinavia date back to Tacitus' Germania (~100 AD), but their arrival to the area before that is still rather unknown.  However, based on their distinct genetics (a good quick read on Wikipedia), and language (Finnish belongs to the "Finno-Ugric" language group, making it more distant from English than even Russian or Sanskrit; again Wikipedia is a good starting place).

By the early 1300s, the mighty Swedes (don't tell any Finns I said that, even though it was true back then!) had already been in Finland long enough to build some little towns/cities in the southwestern part.  One such city - Turku, where I am currently - was even important enough to get a Cathedral and later became the capital of the Finnish region of Sweden.  The Swedes were interested in the same things many countries needed back in those days that happened to be abundant in Finnish forests -- wood, tar (meaning the resinous tree product used to seal wood ships against rot, not the petroleum pavement that goes by that name in the US), and fur. The Finnish-Swedish relationship was interesting because the Finns were pretty much just happy that they could trade their goods through the Swedish networks.  The Swedish ruling class even allowed the Finns to keep their language and didn't enslave them into serfdom.  On the other hand, there were some pretty sucky taxes, espeically during this next part...

Then some people living in what is today Russia (I will call them Russians, even though they are clearly separate from the country that only began to exist fairly recently) figured out that those Finnish forests with all the wood, tar, and furs (technically, I guess the forest animals had those) were pretty enticing.  So, they decided to invade.  The Swedes really did not like that, but the Finns did not mind because they could still trade with the Russians.  The fighting itself was, as it tends to be pretty bad for everyone though, and there were lots of kidnappings, famines, and other nasty things.

There was also trade through the Germanic Hanseatic League, which would probably be considered a positive thing, especially when compared to the war.  This connection was really interesting because now in Finland (now meaning back then in the Medieval times) the educated ruling class spoke Swedish, the merchants spoke German, the locals spoke Finnish, and anyone attempting to interact with more than one group (e.g., the clergy) had to learn more than one language.  This set the structure for the modern, trilingual Finland, except that English has now replaced German after the end of WWII and Swedish and Finnish have kind of switched roles.  The other thing to keep in mind is that the Finns back then would have said "Min√§ olen ruotsilainen" ("I am Swedish," in Finnish), and had few desires to form their own country.

I will skip all the intervening interesting stuff and skip right to 1809, when Napoleon told Russia that they had to invade Sweden to make them stop blockading him.  So Russia just went into the nearest part (Finland) and Sweden did not have enough troops there, so they just retreated back to Sweden.  Still, Finland did not really care who "ruled" them because Russia let them be an autonomous duchy, with their own parliament, money, and even army.  There were a couple people who wanted an independent Finland and they were called "Fennomans."  One of them was our happy friend Adolf Ivar Arwidsson from earlier.  These folks were rather interesting because they were Swedish-speaking Finns who supported the idea of a Finnih-language state.  These Fennomans began crafting a Finnish identity to help their movement get off the ground, and made the Kalevala, a collection of local myths meant to unify the Finnish people, just as the Grimm Tales had for Germany.  The original Kalevala was first published in the premier Fennoman journal of the time, which of course was in Swedish.

The Finns did not really become upset with being under Russian rule until they were not allowed to be autonomous any more.  After a whole bunch of insufferable things for Finns around 1900, including making Russian the language of administration and a big conscription law, they decided to separate from Russia on December 6, 1917.  Russia, then under Lenin, decided to let them go, apparently because they thought there would be a worker rebellion that would turn Finland into a Communist country that would then rejoin Russia.  Nope.

File:Itsenaisyysjulistus 1.jpg
Finnish Declaration of Independence/Suomen itsenäisyysjulistus (again, thanks Wikipedia!)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Made it to Finland

The journey from Boston, USA to Turku, Finland is relatively simple (and cheap, on a Sunday night at least).  A quick 7-hour flight to Munich and 2.5-hour connection on to Helsinki.  Then comes the fun part of navigating the Finnish signs to find the way to the bus to Turku, a 2.5-hour drive away.  Finnish is a crazy language that is not simple for foreigners to navigate, except apparently Estonians and possibly Hungarians.  Nouns in Finnish come in different cases depending on what you do to them.  For instance, coming from a city has one form (Helsinki --> Helsingista "from Helsinki") while going to it can be different forms depending on whether you go actually inside it or just toward it (Turku --> Turun/Turulle "to/toward Turku").  Except it actually is more complicated than that in ways I have not quite yet fully understood.  Stay tuned as I figure out more about Finnish -- it is truly an interesting and (dare I say it lest I get ridiculed) beautiful language.

Street signs in Finland.  City names are somewhat similar to English (e.g. Helsinki) but other directions can get more confusing -- "keskusta" means "from" the "keskus" or "center" of the city.  When in doubt, most Finnish signs have Swedish below (it is their other national language that all students must spend 3-6 years studying), which is fortunately a Germanic language and therefore much more related to English.
Fortunately, my journey and sign interpretation was helped by partially by the fact that I had been reading this excellent book for the duration of my plane ride, but mostly by the fact that every single person in Finland is completely fluent in English.  Seriously, from bus drivers to baristas, everyone jumps straight into excellent English without skipping a beat when my Finnish flounders, which is currently is quite often since even a good dictionary/phrasebook can only give so much preparation.

Based on all the research on how dualinguality (is that a word?  I guess it is now...) is so beneficial to academic performance, it makes me wonder if the famous Finnish educational superiority is just due to their linguistic capabilities.  The humongous differences between Finnish and English would contribute to the amount of brainpower required to master both languages.  I wonder if anyone has done any research on that...