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

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