Story | 07/11/2023 14:26:51 | 8 min Read time

9 questions on the EU Forest strategy and its impact on Finland

Saila Aarnio

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We asked experts how the EU Forest strategy will affect forest management in Finland and what it means for forest owners' property.

The EU would like to regulate forest management to a considerable extent in the future, but on the other hand, Finland has the protection of private property. How do these two things come together? And what does this mean from the forest owner's perspective?

Forestry Director at Metsäteollisuus (Finnish Forest Industries), Karoliina Niemi and UPM Forest's Stakeholder Relationship Director, Sami Oksa, share their views on how EU regulation and the EU Forest strategy affect Finnish forest owners.

1. Does the EU Forest strategy dictate how Finns should manage their forests? 

Karoliina Niemi: "The EU Forest strategy is not a piece of legislation, meaning that it does not dictate how Finnish forests are managed. It sets the direction for the Commission's vision of the path for forests in the EU up to 2030. Of course, underneath the strategy, there are legislative proposals on forests that the Commission is taking forward. The Member States - the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament - have given their views on the strategy and are helping to guide its implementation."

Sami Oksa: "The EU Forest strategy does not directly dictate how forests should be managed. However, it will provide guidelines for other EU regulation and thus may have indirect effects on forest use". 

2. Does the EU Forest strategy take sufficient account of the commercial use of wood in pulp, paper and board products and energy production?

Niemi: "The EU Forest strategy focuses more on the role of forests as carbon sinks and source of biodiversity. It also emphasises the hierarchy of wood use, the so-called "cascade" use of wood. This means that wood should be used first for durable products, then for other wood-based products and only finally for energy production. The forest industry uses wood in a resource-efficient way for end products intended for global markets - nothing is wasted." 

Oksa: "The EU Forest strategy approaches forest use from an overly restrictive perspective. It does not take sufficient account of the means to increase forest area and growth. Taking them into account would allow not only to increase the commercial use of wood, but also to increase carbon sinks and safeguard biodiversity". 

3. Is the EU turning Finnish forests into a European carbon sink by limiting logging in private forests?

Niemi: "The strategy does not reduce the use of forests. Forest carbon sinks are included in the so-called LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) legislation. It sets EU-level targets for carbon sinks for the entire land-use sector by 2030, and is shared with all Member States. Of course, forests play a big role, due to the emissions from agriculture and other land use, for example. Maintaining forest carbon sinks requires active and timely forest management, as vibrant and well-growing forests are the best carbon sinks". 

Oksa: "The EU Forest strategy does not impose restrictions on any operator's ability to use its forests, but provides guidelines for EU policy on forest use. The definitive records on forest use will come through the rest of EU regulation." 

Is the EU Forest strategy's restoration regulation unfair to Finland?

Oksa: "The EU's proposed restoration regulation will establish a quantitative target status based on the area of habitats that existed at least 70 years ago. In Central European countries in particular, forests have been converted to agricultural use well before that time. Finland, on the other hand, was already a forested country at that time, which significantly increases the area covered by the proposal. The costs calculated in the proposal are the highest in the EU and the third highest in absolute terms for Finland in relation to GDP".

Niemi: "The regulation is still under preparation. The draft regulation is a complex set of measures to improve the status of certain habitats. At this stage, no one knows what a good status means, or what to aim for. Many habitats are forested, and yes, lands that have been deforested are treated more favourably than those that have been forested. This strict treatment also applies to countries with a large amount of peatlands, such as Finland." 

Two more important forest initiatives expected from the commission on top of the previous ones

5. Will the EU Forest strategy's restoration regulation return Finland's forests to the condition they were in the 1950s?

Niemi: "The regulation does not mean a return to the 1950s' conditions. It will provide a comparative view of the total area needed by habitats". 

Oksa: "This is only a proposal that will change in the EU process. This is why nothing can be said for sure yet. It would make more sense to create forests of the future that are diverse and adapt to changing climatic conditions". 

6. Will the EU restoration regulation cost forest owners hundreds of millions of euros?

Niemi: "Not directly. The regulation is still under examination. Finland's position is quite positive, and it is precisely cost-effectiveness and national room for manoeuvre that are addressed. If the regulation requires restoration work in the future, the forest owner must receive appropriate compensation. However, it is now important to influence the preparation of the regulation to make it a better package for Finland than the one proposed". 

Oksa: "The EU Forest strategy's restoration regulation obliges Member States and does not impose direct requirements on individual forest owners. The way in which the costs of the regulation will be covered will be decided by Parliament".

Clear majority of Finns reject EU forest policy

7. And does the EU Forest strategy mandate the protection of private forests?

Niemi: "In some cases, the only restoration measure in the Commission's proposal is protection. In such cases, the forests in question are, for example, old growth forests or certain types of peatland forest. It is therefore important now to influence the further preparation of the restoration regulation in order to rationalise restoration measures and increase national decision-making powers. It is important to secure the future availability of wood for the forest industry". 

Oksa: "The proposed regulation is not just about protecting forests. Indirectly, however, it is possible that some of the forests to be restored under the regulation will be excluded from commercial use. Moreover, it should be remembered that this is only a proposal and will change during the process".

8. Has preparing for the implementation of the EU Forest strategy increased the wood trade in Finland?

Niemi: "Wood trade is always a matter between the forest owner and the wood buyer. There is certainly a demand for all wood now and in the future".

Oksa: "It's always a good idea to buy wood based on the condition of the forest. Good forest management can ensure that forests continue to grow and produce high quality wood in the future".

Implementation of the National Forest strategy begins

9. How does modern Finnish forest management take climate and biodiversity into account?

Niemi: "Finnish forest management is climate-wise and takes biodiversity into account. Since the turn of the 21st century, biodiversity actions have been developed through both legislation and voluntary actions. Forest certification is a good example. It already covers 93% of our commercial forests. Certification means leaving retention trees and decaying trees in the forests, water buffer zones and thickets for animals. The best thing for the climate is good and timely forest management and fast regeneration after felling". 

Oksa: "Climate and biodiversity issues are integral to modern forestry in Finland. Active forest management and use will ensure the continuity of carbon sinks in Finland. Forest biodiversity can be promoted, firstly by saving decaying wood and retention trees, and by increasing the proportion of broadleaved trees and water buffer zones. UPM's aim is to increase biodiversity in the forests it owns. The expertise is also available to our customers".

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