A managed forest area in Sulkava, Southern Savonia, in August 2021. (Roni Rekomaa – Lehtikuva)


MINISTER of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä (Centre) has raised eyebrows among researchers and conservationists by estimating that forest types will adapt and relocate as forests are felled in Finland.

“I’m not worried about natural diversity disappearing. It simply changes form. Narrow-mindedness doesn’t really fit Finnish forest policy,” he stated to YLE on Wednesday, 16 December.

“When a forest burns naturally, it causes a similar situation. The forest will still regenerate there,” he added, acknowledging nonetheless that it is important to identify areas of natural value and take them into consideration when planning forest utilisation.

Leppä made his comments in response to an analysis of overlap between biodiversity maps and forest-use notifications carried out by the public broadcasting company. The analysis revealed that more than 20,000 hectares of some of the most biodiverse forests in the country were felled or were to be felled in 2020.

The felling rate translates to an annual loss of roughly one per cent in valuable forests in Finland.

Janne Kotiaho, the head of the Finnish Nature Panel, last week highlighted in a press conference that forests are the primary habitat for a significant number (833) of endangered species in Finland. The press conference was the first in a series of briefings on biodiversity loss and the climate crisis held by Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Emma Kari (Greens).

“This is extremely alarming and undermines Finland’s possibilities to halt biodiversity loss. It’s after all a goal we’ve committed to,” Kari told YLE. “Halting biodiversity loss requires specifically that valuable natural forests are protected.”

The Finnish government has committed to halting biodiversity loss by 2030.

Kotiaho and Jari Kouki, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Eastern Finland, later stated to the public broadcasting company that there are significant differences between a forest that has burned naturally and one that has been clear felled.

“The starting point for forest growth is completely different in a burnt forest than in a felled forest. This is one of the basic facts of forest ecology research that are taught to students of forest sciences in their first year of study,” noted Kouki.

When a forest is clear felled, he explained, the felled area is stripped of virtually all deadwood to serve the needs of the forest industry. A wildfire contrastively leaves almost all of the deadwood in the forest to decay and create an important habitat for a number of species, including endangered invertebrate animals.

“The important thing about a burnt forest is the amount of deadwood that’s missing from felled commercial forests,” said Kouki.

Kotiaho stated that the claim that biodiversity is restored after felling is simply incorrect. A Ministry of the Environment-appointed task force of experts and officials noted in its so-called red book, – which is widely considered the most reliable resource on the state of species in the country – that felling and other silviculture practices, decrease in the number of old forests and sturdy trees, and the lack of decayed wood are the primary threats to the survival of forest species.

“There are all things that arise from the commercial use of forests. The vulnerability of forest species has increased from what it was 10 years ago.”

“Biodiversity doesn’t regenerate as a result of felling.”

Nor do species move away from the felled forests, as claimed by Leppä. Most plants, fungi and animals that live in the forest are unable to protect themselves from the ramifications of felling.

“Birds, many mammals and maybe some flying insects can relocate if there’s unfelled forest nearby that’s a suitable habitat for them. But the majority of all natural life that was in the forest before felling will die as a consequence of clear felling,” said Kotiaho.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT