What should we do with our forests?
Written by Prof. Bengt-Gunnar Jonsson, Mid Sweden University
The Nordic countries are forest countries. Much of our identity is shaped by this and during long periods of time our economy has had strong forest dependence. Also in the future we can predict that forests will maintain their importance in our region. Despite this continuity of importance, the socio-economic circumstance changes and the details in our relation to the forests will also change. In the future we can see an increasing need for forest biomass to support both traditional forest products and a growing demand for bioenergy. At the same time the multiple-use aspects are growing and as a consequence of more than 150 years of industrial forestry many natural values are threatened and the Nordic forest biodiversity is declining.
Forests have clear economical values, traded on an open market. Traditional forest management are challenged by the energy sector and by the international market. It can no longer let what is currently important products dictate future forest management since what the economically most valuable products will be is likely to change in the future. Silviculture needs to consider the long term consequences and risks associated with increased production. Especially given the ongoing climate change this may play unexpected tricks in terms of a mismatch between available plant material and new climatic conditions and increased risks of pests. The non-market values of forests are slowly becoming more important and forest management needs to a higher degree integrate these into forest planning. All the Nordic countries are obliged to meet the goals and targets set at the international level, both within EU and by global processes like the biodiversity convention.
Being raised in a Swedish “consensus spirit” and being conflict sensitive by heritage, the current situation is becoming difficult. More and more it becomes clear that our forests cannot accommodate all the demands and that the society therefore needs to make explicit choices. I am becoming convinced that a forest management that provide 100% satisfaction to all interests are not possible. This means that we need a broad discussion on what we should do with our forests. Science plays a role in providing facts and background and hopefully also tools to reach established goals. However, it is up to our citizens and elected politicians to make the ultimate choices. Therefore it makes me sad that this discussion is not more active than it is. The question posed in the title is the critical one and I am convinced that without a living discussion, based on facts about our forests, we will be less able to meet all contrasting goals. I am also convinced that we will never come to a final answer. This is not necessarily a problem since it is the discussion itself that is important.
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