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State of Finland's Forests 2012: Summary

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The application of the indicators of sustainable forest management in Finland has produced a time series spanning more than 15 years. Although changes in forests are slow, the indicators enable us to distinguish certain trends and to make comparisons, especially on the impacts of forest policy on the forests and forest management.


Principal messages

The state of Finland’s forests has improved over the past 20 years. Over the past 40 years, the growing stock has increased by more than 40%. Over the same period, wood equivalent to the current volume of the tree stock, 2,200 million cubic metres, has been harvested and used. To safeguard biological diversity, nature management measures have been undertaken in commercial forests, and the area of protected forests has been tripled over the past 35 years; thanks to these efforts, the decline of certain forest species has been halted.

Because Finland’s use of wood is far lower than annual growth, Finland’s forests are a carbon sink, removing carbon from the atmosphere equivalent to about half of the carbon dioxide emissions from Finland’s industry per year and binding it into trees and soil. Apart from the severe storm damage that occurred locally along narrow belts in summer 2010 and winter 2011, there has been no widespread forest damage in Finland for 30 years. Climate change is estimated to increase forest growth, but on the other hand extreme weather phenomena will probably become more common and cause local damage more frequently.

Forests, forest bioproducts and ecosystem services are estimated to continue to form an important part of Finland’s national economy in preparing to alleviate the impact of climate change and to produce wellbeing services for citizens. Being a low-energy and carbon-neutral raw material, wood is expected to be much in demand in the production of renewable forest energy, in wood construction and in new bioeconomy products. The forest sector contributes about 5% of the GDP, but the percentage may be more than 10% regionally, for instance in southeastern and eastern Finland and in Kainuu. The economic recession of 2008–2009 caused a reduction of nearly 20% in production capacity in the pulp and paper industries, and jobs were lost in the forest industry in Finland.


The key conclusions on the state of Finland’s forests in 2011 are as follows, by indicator:

Forest policy

In recent years, forest policy debate and measures have tended to focus on increasing the use of forest energy and bioproducts as a corollary to the renewable energy and climate change debate. With the structural change in the forest industry, research in wood as a raw material for bioproducts and renewable energy solutions has been stepped up. The forest organisations subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will be restructured as of 2012 with the aim of clarifying their functions and making them more efficient.

Appreciation of forests has increased among citizens, and accordingly a wider range of forest management alternatives, forms of forest use and services is being developed. Safeguarding the biodiversity of the forest environment has been established as a standard point of interest in forest management alongside wood production. By contrast, the economic viability of forest management has not improved, although the volume and annual increment of growing stock have increased continually.

The principal policy document in forest matters is the National Forest Programme, whose implementation is approved by the Government. Apart from the National Forest Programme (NFP), the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland (METSO) and the Strategic Programme for the Forest Sector (MSO) are also ongoing.


Forest resources

Three fourths of the land area of Finland, 23 million hectares, is covered by forests. The forest area has remained almost unchanged over the last 50 years, whereas the volume of growing stock has increased by more than 40% in the same period, being 2,284 million cubic metres at the end of 2010. The age structure of forests has become equalised due to cuttings and systematic forest planning aiming at increased wood production.

Carbon stocks in forests, mires and the soil are extensive, and are constantly growing due to the increasing volume of growing stock. Since the annual volume of wood use is far less than the annual increment to the growing stock, the carbon balance is currently positive in Finnish forests, amounting to 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The volume of carbon dioxide bound by Finnish forests per year is equivalent to nearly 50% of the carbon dioxide emissions of Finnish industries. Wood-based fuels account for about 22% of overall energy consumption in Finland, which is important for the reduction of CO2 emissions. Being a renewable raw material with long-term carbon sequestration potential, wood is heavily promoted for use in construction, above all for building blocks of flats in wood.



Health and vitality

The deposition load in Finland has decreased considerably compared to the 1980s. The greater part of the deposition of atmospheric pollutants in Finland – 71% of nitrogen deposition and 83% of sulphur deposition – comes from abroad. Measurements of the nitrogen and sulphur content in soil water show no significant changes in the acidity of forest land to date, and current levels pose no threat to forests.

Based on defoliation measurements, the health status of Finnish forests is satisfactory and has remained stable. There has been no widespread forest damage in Finland for 30 years. This is partly due to the enactment of the Act on Prevention of Forest Fungi and Insect Damage in 1991, restricting the storage of timber in the summer. Occasional local forest damage does occur from time to time; in economic terms, the most significant of these are damages caused by fungi and insects, storm damage, and damages to saplings caused by moose. Exceptionally warm weather in southern Finland in summer 2010 caused severe storm damage along narrow belts of forest, felling trees amounting to 8 million cubic metres of wood. In December 2011 several million cubic metres of wood were thrown by high winds. Thanks to efficient monitoring, forest fires have remained extremely small in area in Finland. There are several hundred forest fires every year, but they are extinguished efficiently.

Climate change is estimated to increase forest growth, but on the other hand extreme weather phenomena will probably become more common and cause local damage more frequently. The most worrying threat factors are the spreading northward of insect pest damage from the temperate zone and improved breeding potential for the pine wood nematode and bark beetles due to warmer summers. Forest management according to experiencebased best practices is the principal means for helping forests adapt to climate change. Forest tree breeding also provides tools for improving the adaptation of forest trees to climate change.


Productive functions

The annual increment of growing stock has exceeded the total drain by one fourth since the mid-1970s. Over the same period, wood equivalent to the current volume of the tree stock, 2,200 million cubic metres, has been harvested and used.

Sustainability of wood production is promoted systematically both by Government measures and the active participation of private forest owners, and through forest planning. Comprehensive forest planning has contributed to the sustainable management and use of forests. The average removal of roundwood in 2000–2010 was 59 million cubic metres annually, and the gross stumpage earnings about EUR 1,770 million, equal to EUR 88 per hectare of forest per year.

Forest-related services and the use and maintenance of non-wood products are a natural component of forest management in Finland. Everyman’s Rights grant the universal right and opportunity to everyone to use forests for recreation, outdoor activities and collecting berries and mushrooms, insofar as this causes no damage or disturbance.

Non-wood forest products can have considerable importance locally and for individual households, although the value of forest services and non-wood products is slight compared to the sales value of timber nationally. Economically, the most important non-wood products of forests are game, mostly moose, and nature tourism. Traditional forest industry products are being joined by a wide range of new wood-based bioproducts such as biodiesel, composites, biopolymers, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and wellbeing products.


Biological diversity

Forest management oriented to the biological diversity by mitigating the natural development cycle of forests has been a statutory requirement in Finland for 15 years, ever since safeguarding biological diversity was enshrined as a parallel goal with wood production in the Forest Act of 1997. At the same time, the production of information about biodiversity and related research, discussion and consultation have been an important key area, with broad participation by forest owners and other actors and interest groups in forest management.

The main methods for safeguarding biological diversity in commercial forests are the protection of valuable habitats and biotopes, favouring of mixed tree stands in the management, and increasing the amount of decayed wood. The selected new forest management policy has brought measurable positive changes to commercial forests. The rate of decline of certain forest species has slowed down in Finland, or in some cases even stopped since the 1990s, although it has not been possible to halt the the decline in forest species overall. An evaluation of treatened species conducted in 2010 showed that the decline has slowed down or stopped for 81 forest species but continued for 108 species. Retention trees at felling sites have been particularly important in curbing the decline trends.

Unlike in other European countries, strict forest protection is emphasised in Finland. Under various protection programmes and decisions, the area of protected forests has been tripled over the past 35 years. The total area of protected forests is currently 2.2 million hectares, or 9.6% of all forest land. The total area of protected forests and forests under restricted use is almost 3 million hectares, or 13.0% of all forest land. The percentage of strictly protected forests in Finland (5.2% of forest land) is the highest in Europe. In southern Finland, where the percentage of strictly protected forests varies between 1.0% and 3.6%, biological diversity and protection is being promoted through the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland (METSO). The programme involves developing silvicultural methods, as well as voluntary measures by private forest owners to protect biodiversity, and restoration management of protected areas in State ownership.

Forest management in Finland is based on native tree species, and management measures are undertaken on a mosaic-like basis, followed the forest vegetation types formed by natural development. Each year, two thirds of the area of regenerated forest land (150 000 hectares, about 0.8% of all forest land) is planted with seedlings and one third is regenerated either naturally or by direct seeding.


Protective forests

The land is fairly flat in Finland, and there are hardly any problems caused by soil erosion, avalanches or shifting of the ground. Protective functions therefore mostly focus on protective forests in the timberline area in Lapland.

The total area of protective forests in the northernmost part of Finland is 3.3 million hectares. In these areas, fellings are restricted by law to prevent the timberline from receding further south. According to monitoring of forest regeneration, there has been no change in the receding of the timberline so far.

Because of the great number of peatland forests and waterways – lakes, rivers, small water systems – in Finland, issues relating to waterways receive special attention in forest management. Forest management measures that may burden waterways include final fellings, soil preparation, drainage and fertilisation. Natural peatlands are no longer drained for commercial forest use in Finland, but the condition of already drained peatland forests that have growth potential is improved in ditch cleaning projects. Monitoring of the effects of silviculture on water systems over a period of 15 years indicates that the level of water protection has improved continuously at felling sites. The level of water protection regarding harvesting and soil preparation is excellent or good in over 90% of the sites.

The condition of small water systems requires continuous attention, and for this purpose water management plans and local restoration programmes are drawn up. Protective zones with trees are established alongside waterways in harvesting, sludge sumps are dug during drainage reconditioning, and waters from the area are passed to open waters through an infiltration area to prevent leaching of nutrients and sludge.


Socio-economic functions

The forest sector remains important for the Finnish national economy. The forest sector contributes about 5% of Finland’s GDP; regionally, however, the percentage may be as high as 10%, for instance in south-eastern and eastern Finland and in Kainuu. Forest industry products account for about 20% of Finland’s total exports of goods.

The net result of private forests has remained the same on average over the past 10 years but with extreme fluctuations from EUR 53 to EUR 136 per hectare per year.

Domestic consumption of sawn wood is about one sq.m per capita annually, and that of paper and paperboard about 213 kg. The consumption of wood-based products per capita in Finland is one of the highest in Europe.

In 2010, the forest sector provided employment to about 69,000 persons, less than 3% of the entire employed labour force. The worldwide recession in 2008–2009 caused a collapse in employment particularly in the pulp and paper industries: in 2010, the average unemployment rate in the forest sector was 9.0%. Occupational safety and health of employees in the forest sector are well taken care of. Social security of employees in the forest sector is equal to that in other sectors of the economy.

Citizens have a wide variety of opportunities for participating in the various aspects of forestry. Methods of participatory planning have been developed especially in the case of State-owned forests. The National Forest Programme and Regional Forest Programmes are also always drawn up in broad-based cooperation with interest groups.

Forests have contributed to the evolving of the Finnish identity and to Finns’ relationship to the natural environment. The cultural and spiritual functions of forests are therefore heavily featured in the preservation of forest traditions, silvicultural operations, timber construction, art, music, communications and landscape protection.

  Updated: Updated: 12.04.2012 /MLier |  Photo: Erkki Oksanen, Metla, unless otherwise stated | Copyright Metla | Feedback