So far, the situation with respect to the health of forests has been very good in Finland. However, risks associated with forest health are expected to increase in future as climate change proceeds.
Significant efforts to promote research and development activities related to forest health include the Catch the Carbon package of measures. Through this, funding has been provided to a large number of projects aimed to combat, control and mitigate climate change.
Forest damages in Finland
The main causes of forest damages in Finland include wind and snow, as well as different kinds of insects, mammals and fungi. In recent years especially heavy storms have caused extensive forest damage in our country. At their worst, strong storm winds can damage millions of cubic metres of timber at a time. Mature spruce stands and margins of clear-cut sites are the most vulnerable to wind damage. Snow causes repeated damage especially in areas susceptible to crown snow-load in all parts of Finland.
The European spruce bark beetle benefits from both wind and storm damage and climate warming, and it has caused damage especially in old-growth spruce stands in southern Finland. The numbers of European spruce bark beetle have exceeded the risk levels in large areas in southern and central Finland. The Natural Resources Institute Finland monitors the development of the European spruce bark beetle population. Other pest insects causing damage to our forests include the great web-spinning pine sawfly and European red pine sawfly, which caused severe local damage to Finnish pine stands in 2005-2010.
Of mammals, moose cause significant damage to the growth of pine and deciduous tree stands every year. Other cervids, such as white-tailed deer and roe deer, cause similar damage as animals feed in seedling stands.
Economic losses to forest owners are also caused by Heterobasidion fungi, which causes root and butt rot in conifers. The fungi spread in summer in connection with fellings, and they occur the most frequently in southern and central Finland, where taking measures to prevent them is a statutory obligation. Preventing Heterobasidion fungi is becoming even more important as climate warming is expected to significantly increase their activity in Finland.
Thanks to efficient fire prevention, the areas affected by forest fires have been very small in Finland. Factors that improve our fire prevention preparedness include the dense network of forest roads and aerial fire detection operations. The types of damage covered by the Ministry’s Contingency Plan for Forest Damages comprise forest fires, snow damages, pests that so far have not been present in Finland and damages caused by drought and frost. A process to update the Contingency Plan is under way.
Forest Damages Prevention Act
The Forest Damages Prevention Act (Forest Damages Act) aims to ensure that forest treatment, wood harvesting and timber storage operations have no negative impacts on the health of forests. The aim is, in particular, to keep the populations of the worst pest insects affecting forests at a low level and prevent the spreading of Heterobasidion fungi in connection with felling. The responsibility for supervision rests with the Finnish Forest Centre. The statutory duties of the Natural Resources Institute Finland, assisted by the Finnish Forest Centre, include monitoring and predicting the occurrence and spreading of plant diseases and pests that cause forest damages and studying the cause-effect relationships and economic impacts of the damages.
The direct prevention measures under the Forest Damages Prevention Act enable to prevent the spreading of sudden forest damages and influence these. For this purpose, the Act lays down time limits for the removal of timber with bark and windthrow trees from forests. According to these provisions, all timber with bark stored on roadsides or in forests must be moved away from forest by a certain date. The deadlines for the removal vary in different regions of Finland.
The prevention of Heterobasidion fungi causing root and butt rot is also an obligation laid down by the Forest Damages Act. The obligation concerns intermediate and regeneration felling operations in mineral soil areas and peatlands between the beginning of May and end of November. The responsibility for fulfilling the obligation rests with the operator that carries out the felling. The Government Decree on Preventing Heterobasidion lays down further provisions on the risk areas in terms of its spreading, sites concerned and acceptable prevention methods.
Latest changes to the Forest Damages Act
The most recent changes to the Forest Damages Act entered into force in April 2023, when the validity period of the aid scheme included in the Act was extended until the end of 2027. The aid scheme enables to provide compensation to landowners for the costs and damages caused by measures to prevent forest damages. The aid scheme must be renewed at regular intervals in accordance with the updates to the EU State aid rules and the notification of the aid scheme. At the same time, provisions on the prevention of Heterobasidion fungi in exceptional circumstances and the notification obligation of professional operators concerning this were included in the Act. In addition, certain technical amendments were made.
The most important updates to the Forest Damages Act that entered into force in 2022 concerned the prevention of the European spruce bark beetle, pine shoot beetle and Heterobasidion and the operators’ self-monitoring obligation. With respect to the European spruce bark beetle, certain adjustments were made to the obligation to remove spruce timber by a certain date. In certain new areas specified separately (including the regions of Satakunta, Pirkanmaa and South Savo and parts of Central Finland, North Savo and North Karelia) the deadline for the removal of spruce timber was brought forward. Piles of pines of less than 50 solid cubic metres were exempted from the obligation. The obligation to prevent Heterobasidion was extended to also apply to heath forest on drained peatland with pine as the dominant species. At the same time, the self-monitoring obligation was extended to operators engaged in the brokering of timber on a professional basis. The obligation to draw up a written self-monitoring plan in connection with fellings was also included in the Forest Damages Act.
Contingency Plan for Forest Damages of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
Follow-up study on the assessment of the Forest Damages Act: Removal of timber with bark and treatment of stumps in pine stands on peatlands (report of the Natural Resources Institute Finland 2021, in Finnish)
Assessment of the amendments to the Forest Act and Forest Damages Act (Natural Resources and Bioeconomy Research 3/2020 (in Finnish)
Forest Damages Prevention Act (1087/2013)
Government Decree on the Prevention of Heterobasidion (264/2016, in Finnish)
Forest damage (Finnish Forest Centre)
Forests and exceptional weather (Natural Resources Institute Finland, in Finnish)