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Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities
Study: Careful planning needed to halt biodiversity loss while increasing wood production

Government analysis, assessment and research activitiesMinistry of Agriculture and Forestry
29.3.2021 12.57
Press release
Photo: Mohammed Alfaraj, Finland Promotion Board

To halt the loss of biodiversity, both nature protection and nature management in commercial forests should be increased. This is the conclusion of a study published on 29 March, conducted by the Natural Resources Institute Finland, Metsähallitus, Pellervo Economic Research Institute, Finnish Wildlife Agency and Finnish Environment Institute. The study was commissioned by the Government.

Besides targets concerning the surface areas, halting biodiversity loss in a cost-effective way requires that we are capable of identifying the sites that at the moment are the best ones in terms of preserving biodiversity and, on the other hand, areas that are less significant for wood production that could be developed in a way that enhances biodiversity. A strong increase in the surface area protected and nature management in commercial forests would cause considerable costs to the State if compensations were also paid for nature management. Growth in the demand for wood at the same time would increase the costs even further, because higher wood prices would mean higher compensations to be paid to landowners for the protected areas.

The project ‘Cost-effective measures for halting biodiversity loss in forests’ (KEIMO), conducted as part of the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities, analysed the economic and ecological impacts of a strong increase in forest protection and nature management in commercial forests and how these could be reconciled with a simultaneous increase in the demand for wood and felling operations. The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 also stresses the need to increase the surface areas protected and nature management in commercial forests to halt biodiversity loss and adapt to climate change

Nature management should be targeted to areas close to protected areas

The biodiversity of forests can be preserved more cost-effectively when the wishes of landowners are taken into account in nature management and measures are targeted to areas where the preconditions for them to succeed are in place. These include areas adjacent or close to areas that are already protected.

“However, protection should also be targeted to heathland and peatland forests with an old-growth stand of significant nature value, as well as to favourably located sites with young stands or felling sites for nature management purposes where nature values are still evolving,” says Kimmo Syrjänen, Head of Unit at the Finnish Environment Institute.

The criteria and statistics related to nature management need to be developed further to enable better monitoring of the quality and volumes of nature management measures.

Good forest management must support the reconciliation of biodiversity protection and wood production

In the project six scenario calculations were made that differed from each other with respect to the increase in roundwood removals (72.4–80 million m3), surface area protected and nature management measures in commercial forests (retention trees, mix of deciduous trees and rotation period).

Based on the study, it is not possible to double the surface area of nature conservation areas in southern and central Finland, strongly increase nature management in commercial forests and raise roundwood removals to 80 million m3 at the same time if we also wish to preserve the future felling potential. In commercial forests the volume of the growing stock (amount of wood) stays about the same for the next 30 years in a scenario where protected areas and nature management measures increased as described above but there was no increase in roundwood removals. During the period covered by the study, an increase of roundwood removals to 80 million m3 alone had no impact on the growing stock volume, either.

The cost-effectiveness of preserving biodiversity is the weaker the higher the demand for wood is. There are two main causes for this: protection costs more if the price of wood is higher, and biodiversity leakage is also higher. This means that the increase in protection and nature management measures improves biodiversity in the sites concerned, but more felling is being done and more intensively elsewhere in commercial forests. A strong, simultaneous increase in protection, nature management measures and felling would lead to younger commercial forests and a considerable decrease in the growing stock volume over the next 30 years.

Younger commercial forests would mean that in the long term there would not be enough domestic wood to meet the needs of the forest industry. Domestic wood can be replaced by imports, but this may have adverse impacts on biodiversity somewhere else. Increasing the growth of forests in areas other than those designated to protection or nature management e.g. by means of timely seedling stand management, fertilisation and bred seed and seedling materials would improve the possibilities to increase protection, nature management and felling at the same time. In the long term increase in afforestation would also contribute to this.

“We should bear in mind that scenarios are alternative images of the future, and it is unlikely that the targets for surface areas and roundwood removals presented in them would ever be realised as such. However, scenarios are a good tool for illustrating the challenges associated with preserving biodiversity and increasing wood production,” says Leena Kärkkäinen, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Institute Finland.

Voluntary protection measures are important, costs to State economy may be high

For the purposes of the study, the increase in the protected forest area took place on a voluntary basis and landowners received full compensation for the income losses, in accordance with the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland. Preserving habitats that are important for game animals and forest bird species also promotes the wellbeing of forest ecosystems.

To double the protected area from the present in southern and central Finland by 2030, the funding of the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland Metso should be increased by more than ten-fold to at least EUR 240 million a year. If nature management measures in commercial forests were also increased, the annual costs would rise to an estimated EUR 460 to 530 million. In addition, more resources would be needed for the administration that implements the protection.

A strong increase in the protected area would not be possible without less strict selection criteria for the sites, which means that areas where nature values are still evolving would be protected. This would increase the number of sites offered for protection, as well as reduce the costs.

New instruments to enhance biodiversity needed

Cost-effective means to encourage forest owners to offering more sites for protection and interest them in nature management include enhanced communication on the Forest Biodiversity Programme for Southern Finland Metso and the Helmi programme concerned with the restoration of habitats. Area-related payments could provide better incentives to forest owners to preserving structural characteristics of forests that promote biodiversity. In addition, similar offsetting mechanisms could be developed for preserving biodiversity as have been introduced for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

Inquiries:

KEIMO project: Leena Kärkkäinen, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Institute Finland, tel. +358 295 324 848, leena.karkkainen(at)luke.fi
Habitats and structural characteristics important for forest biodiversity: Kimmo Syrjänen, Head of Unit, Finnish Environment Institute, tel. +358 295 251 666, kimmo.syrjanen(at)syke.fi
Structural characteristics of forests important for game animals: Janne Miettinen, Senior Planning Officer, Finnish Wildlife Agency +358 294 312 264, janne.miettinen(at)riista.fi
Preserving biodiversity in State-owned forests: Antti Otsamo, Sustainable Development Manager, Metsähallitus, Forestry Ltd, tel. +358 206 394 442, antti.otsamo(at)metsa.fi
Steering instruments for preserving biodiversity: Paula Horne, Research Director, Pellervo Economic Research, tel. +358 40 592 6820, paula.horne(at)ptt.fi
Katja Matveinen, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, tel. +358 295 162 287, katja.matveinen(at)mmm.fi (Chair of the Project Steering Group)

The Government’s joint analysis, assessment and research activities (VN TEAS) produce data used to support decision-making, everyday operations and knowledge-based management. They are guided by the Government’s annual plan for analysis, assessment and research. The content of the reports published in the publication series of the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities is the responsibility of the producers of the data in question and does not necessarily represent the view of the Government.