In an open letter addressed to the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, dated February 7, 2007, a group of Finnish researchers expressed their concern about the protection of natural forests in Finland , especially on state-owned forest areas in Lapland .
As an independent research institution the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) has been asked by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to prepare a response to the researchers’ letter. Compiling work is currently in progress and the response is scheduled to be ready on April 30, 2007. Since the researchers’ letter contains views and interpretations that are based on research information produced at Metla, Metla wishes to express its own position on the interpretation relating to research data on forest resources and amount of protected forest areas.
Metla is responsible for the national forest inventories (NFI) that have been carried out for 80 years to monitor forest development and changes that occur in forests. On the basis of these inventories it has been possible to obtain a comprehensive and long-term understanding of the development of forest area, growing stock volume, age structure and factors relating to forest biodiversity.
The researchers’ appeal is especially focused on protection of the natural forests. The term “natural” in the appeal is defined as applying to forests older than 140 years of age, where adverse damage from the point of view of forestry, for example fallen, broken or dead trees or multiple damage, prevails. The definition used in the appeal does not distinguish between multifunctional forests and natural forests. The definition used does not cover, for example, the structural features required in a real boreal natural forest, such as random distribution of trees in a stand, vertical tree layers and the amount of dead wood, which are requirements listed in the nature directive of the European Union. The calculations presented in the appeal on forests older than 140 years of age do not describe fellings in natural forests but instead, they indicate that the area of 140-year-old forests has decreased and that the amount of damage in them has decreased.
Forest protection of European countries has been investigated for ten years within the COST (European Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research) cooperation organized by the European Union. More than 200 researchers and other forest protection specialists from almost 30 European countries have analyzed the status of European forests under protection and harmonized the concepts of forest protection. The investigation shows great variation in forest protection between the different countries of Europe. This can be explained by, for example, the history of forest use, conditions of forest ownership and differences in the fragmentation of the forest areas within the landscape consisting of various land use categories.
Without ambiguity, it shows that the proportion of the protected forest areas from the total forest area in Finland is the highest in Europe and the level of protection is the strictest in Europe . Strictly protected forests, where no management and other silvicultural operations are allowed, comprise 1.89 million hectares, i.e. 8.2 percent of the total area of productive forest land, and forest and scrub land of low productivity. The strictly protected proportion of productive forest land is also high, 4.6 percent of the forested area.
Finland ’s forest cover at the landscape level, especially in Lapland, is one of the most unbroken ones in Europe . The proportion of protected forests is already 18 percent of the forests on the Northern boreal vegetation zone of Finland. In Lapland there is a vast network of protected forest areas in "Metsä-Lappi" (Forest Lapland), including several large-scale areas that will secure richness and migration of species. The status of protection in Finnish Lapland and its vegetation zones is exceptionally good, because 43 percent of the forests in the Metsä-Lappi zone and 51 percent of forest land owned by Metsähallitus in the same area are protected.
In addition to forestry and the forest industry, nature conservation, nature tourism and reindeer husbandry all represent very important ways of using nature and obtaining a livelihood in Lapland . As such, they are important research targets at Metla. The most sustainable and acceptable means to enhance social, ecological and financial objectives is to balance the needs of various forest uses, and this is already being brought into practice in the Lapland forest areas. In the annual state budget discussions, the Finnish Parliament reviews the target settings for forestry in state-owned forests. In addition to the long-term ecological sustainability requirement for forests, they also take into consideration the financial importance of forestry and the forest sector, social values, other means of livelihood in the regions and the international agreements that Finland has accepted.