Finnish Forest Research Institute  Metla

Press release 6.9.2006

Voluntary agreement system - an effective policy instrument in forest conservation

New means and improved silvicultural practices may offer effective solutions for preserving forest biodiversity. Forest owners are increasingly willing to adopt the new approach involving voluntary participation in forest conservation, which means that a significant amount of forests could be brought under protection through this system. The new approach provides forest owners with an alternative and a complementary way to earn income from their forests. These are details from a research report of the METSO Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland.

The new policy instruments help the forest owner to evaluate what kind of products and services he truly wants to produce in his forests. He may find it financially profitable to actively produce nature-based, ecological values.

In Finland forests have been exceptionally important for the development of society, economy and culture. Versatile targets for the use of forests are outlined in the National Forest Policy (NFP). According to the NFP, preservation of forest biodiversity is centrally handled in the METSO Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland. METSO is a programme comprising 17 measures, the objective of which is to extend the conservation network, improve its quality and provide information and meet other requirements for the preservation of biodiversity. The Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) monitors and evaluates the economic and social impacts of the METSO programme. The results of the METSO research report will be used for evaluation purposes.

The ecological efficacy of the new instruments to be tested in METSO depends on the number and quality of targets. Research at the Universities of Oulu and Jyväskylä on the effectiveness of the trading in nature values in the Satakunta province indicates that ecologically valuable areas can be brought under conservation through the new instruments. However, there is plenty of variation in the sites that have been selected for conservation. The amount of remuneration should vary depending on the ecological value of the site. Placing a greater emphasis on ecological values would encourage forest owners to produce such values.

If the markets begin to work and demand (resources allocated by society for conservation) and supply (willingness of forest owners) are adequate, the new instruments will cause a significant expansion of ecological efficacy.

According to the results gained by Metla and the University of Oulu, approximately half of the sites in nature values trading will be re-offered when the first agreement period ends. Furthermore, several forest owners are ready to make longer agreements than the 10-year period currently used in the trading in nature values. Agreements made through tendering are currently made either as permanent or 20-year agreements. Extending the length of agreement periods is a way to control the ecological uncertainty relating to voluntary participation in conservation.

Trading in nature values has not always worked as effectively as possible, because forest owners have not been asked to send their tenders. In some experimental projects individual agreements have been made upon receiving offers, which has made it difficult to compare the targets regarding their ecological values and remunerations. The appropriate conservation authority could make trading more efficient by setting up a call for tenders prior to making agreements.

According to the collaborative study of the University of Helsinki and Metla, forest owners, advisory bodies and conservation authorities need to be better informed, and their attitudes should be changed. Forest owners and players in different sectors are ready to apply the new instruments to preserve biodiversity. The acceptability of the new instruments depends primarily on how well the forest owner is heard in the decision making; it is mainly he who takes the initiative on conservation, he has a chance to formulate the value of the site in his price setting, and he decides whether to accept the agreement or not. The forest owner maintains the power of decision also when he offers a site for permanent conservation. The forest owner’s power of decision is increased also In fixed-term conservation agreements, because he commits himself for a limited period. A remuneration to compensate for financial losses caused by conservation is an important incentive for the forest owner to accept the new instruments, because it sets conservation as one of the available economic alternatives.

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